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Diet High in Fiber Might Lengthen Your Life

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Feb. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Eating a diet rich in fiber may reduce your risk of dying from heart disease, respiratory disease or any other cause by 22 percent, researchers from the U.S. National Cancer Institute report.

Fiber has also been tied to a reduced risk of developing heart disease, some cancers, diabetes and obesity, the researchers added. In addition, fiber helps bowel movements and lowers cholesterol levels, blood sugar and blood pressure. It also promotes weight loss and reduces inflammation, they noted.

"The 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages consuming fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains," said lead researcher Yikyung Park, a staff scientist at the institute.

"The guidelines recommend 14 grams per 1,000 calories of dietary fiber per day; that's 25 grams [of fiber] a day. Our study is in line with these recommendations, and suggests dietary fiber intake is associated with lower mortality," she said.

The report is published in the Feb. 14 online edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

For the study, Park's team collected data on 388,122 men and women who took part in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. As part of the study, participants filled out a questionnaire that asked about their diet.

The amount of fiber people in the study ate ranged from 13 grams to 29 grams per day in men and from 11 grams to 26 grams per day in women.

Over nine years of follow-up, 20,126 men and 11,330 women died.

The researchers found that men and women who ate the most fiber were 22 percent less likely to die over the nine years than people who ate the least fiber.

Moreover, the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory disease was cut 24 percent to 56 percent among men who ate the most fiber and reduced by 34 percent to 59 percent among women, Park's group found.

Fiber from grains, but not from fruits, was associated with reduced risks of dying, the researchers noted.

"Prior studies have focused on the relationship between fiber intake and cardiovascular disease, but few have examined the link between dietary fiber and risk of death from any cause," Park said. "Our analysis adds to the literature, and suggests dietary fiber intake is associated with decreased likelihood of death."

Dr. Frank B. Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of an accompanying journal editorial, said, "This study provides further evidence to support current dietary guidelines that recommend high intake of fiber."

Commenting on the study, Samantha Heller, a dietitian, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., said that "whole grains rule."

It may be that people whose diets are high in fiber, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts, lead healthier lifestyles that include exercise and not smoking than people who eat primarily processed foods and few fruits and vegetables, she said.

"That said, wouldn't it be great if people took the simple step of adding healthy, high-fiber foods to their diets and dodged very scary and serious diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes," Heller said.

More information

For more on the health benefits of fiber, visit the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Yikyung Park, Sc.D., staff scientist, U.S. National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Md.; Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D., professor, nutrition and epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass.; Samantha Heller, M.S., R.D., dietitian, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator, Center for Cancer Care, Griffin Hospital, Derby, Conn.; Feb. 14, 2011, Archives of Internal Medicine, online

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