They are considered important components of our diet. But so far we have underestimated the enormous positive influence of fiber on our health – and most people eat too little of it.
Dietary fiber — the indigestible fiber found in plant-based foods like grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and nuts — has a good reputation. They are particularly important for our intestinal health and digestion. But researchers have found that a high-fiber diet has many broader health benefits.
Scientists from New Zealand’s University of Otago have conducted a major meta-investigation for the World Health Organization. To find out what role carbohydrates and a certain amount of fiber play in our body, they looked at a total of 243 studies from the last 40 years. The result of their analysis was published in the journal “The Lancet”.
Protection against heart disease and diabetes
“While we all knew fiber was good for us, we didn’t know to what extent this old mantra would hold true,” said Professor Jim Mann, one of the study’s authors, in a statement from the university. Because the study showed that a higher intake of dietary fiber can significantly reduce the risk of a variety of diseases. It protects against cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer – and it significantly reduces the risk of death compared to people who consume very little fiber.
Participants who ate a diet significantly higher in fiber also lost weight, had better cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. All in all, Mann speaks of an “overwhelming positive effect”.
The recommendation: at least 25 grams per day
So it pays to build more plant-based foods into your diet and replace processed grains with whole grain products: The scientists recommend eating at least 25 to 29 grams of fiber per day – but the more, the more effective. This corresponds to the recommendation of the German Society for Nutrition (DGE) of 30 grams per day.
Unfortunately, many people don’t even come close to sticking to this guideline: Dr. Andrew Reynolds complains that most consume less than 20 grams of fiber per day. Perhaps one hurdle to getting enough fiber is that there are few foods that provide the highest levels of fiber at once—making eating the right combination a challenge. “In practice, our meals need to be based on whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruit to increase fiber intake,” explains Reynolds.
More whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits
Anyone who has a large bowl of fresh oatmeal with fruit for breakfast in the morning is doing something right. Because 100 grams of oat flakes contain about ten grams of fiber, a handful of blueberries or almonds as a topping and some of them. Wheat bran has a comparatively high fiber content with around 45 grams per 100 grams, and dried legumes are also highly recommended.
Foods that provide less fiber can still help to cover the daily requirement: for example a banana, a piece of wholemeal bread as a snack and a large portion of vegetables such as Brussels sprouts or broccoli. For many, getting the required amount on a regular basis means changing their eating habits – but the health benefits should not be underestimated.