A new report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) concludes that over 25 grams of fiber every day provides great health benefits, helping protect against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and a swarm of other health issues. But most people aren’t even coming close to that number.

Replacing white bread and pasta with whole wheat is an excellent starting point if you want to eat more fiber. Image credits: anaterate.

Eat more fiber

There’s no such thing as an ideal diet, a recent study confirmed. However, all the “good” diets have one thing in common: a substantial amount of fiber. Dietary fiber is the portion of plant-derived food that cannot be completely broken down through digestion — but even though you don’t digest it, it can do wonders for your health.

This fiber has many functions in diet, one of which may be to aid in energy intake control and reduced risk for development of obesity. So already, dietary fiber helps against obesity, which means it indirectly helps protect against the numerous health issues brought on by obesity — but there’s more to it than that. Fiber adds bulk to the stool, which alleviates constipation, and helps regulate blood sugar.

So it should be no surprise that fiber plays a key role in healthy diets — the new report goes a great way towards confirming that and quantifying the amount of fiber that yields the most benefits.

Just how much?

The WHO researchers carried out a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of prospective studies and randomized controlled trials. In total, they had 185 prospective studies and 58 clinical trials with 4635 adult participants. Overall, results indicated a 15–30% decrease in all-cause and cardiovascular-related mortality, and incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke incidence and mortality, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer when comparing the highest dietary fibre consumers with the lowest consumers. Higher consumption of fiber also correlated positively with lower bodyweight, systolic blood pressure, and total cholesterol.

But how much fiber was enough? The bare minimum is 25 grams per day, researchers say.

“Risk reduction associated with a range of critical outcomes was greatest when daily intake of dietary fibre was between 25 g and 29 g,” researchers say. Eating over 29 g yielded even better results. “Dose-response curves suggested that higher intakes of dietary fibre could confer even greater benefit to protect against cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal and breast cancer. Similar findings for whole grain intake were observed.”

This is consistent with current recommendations. For instance, the United States National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine recommends that “adult men ages 14–50 consume 38 grams of dietary fiber per day, men 51 and older 30 grams, women ages 19–50 to consume 25 grams per day, women 51 and older 21 grams.” Similarly, the British Nutrition Foundation has recommended a minimum fiber intake of 30 grams per day for healthy adults — but few people actually respect that.

Plants alone contain dietary fiber. So if you want to make sure you eat more fiber, fruits and veggies are your friends. Image in public domain.

In the US, the average person consumes less than 50% of the dietary fiber levels recommended for good health, a factor which many scientists feel is decisive for the dramatic obesity crisis experienced by the country. To make matters even worse, youths consume even less fiber than the average American: around 20% of what they should.

However, the US isn’t the only country which needs to be eating more fiber. In the UK, just 9% of adults eat enough daily fiber, and similar trends are reported in much of the developing world. The lack of fiber is a main characteristic of the modern “Western Diet,” and the effects are starting to show.

Things are even more concerning as many of today’s popular diets are low-carb diets, which turn their back on fiber even more.

How to get your fiber

So how can you make sure you eat enough fiber? The key, as you might have guessed, lies in one word: plants. Foods of animal origin do not contain dietary fiber. So here’s a few ideas to help you reach 30g a day:

  • Cereals. An average 40g portion of bran flakes contains 8g of fiber, though most people eat far more than 40g of cereal. Oats have similar amounts.
  • Pulses like lentil or lentil. Black beans and lentil contain around 10-16g of fibers per cup. They are also very high in protein. Green peas have 9-10g / cup.
  • Fruits. An apple has around 5g of fiber. A pear has 6, and a cup of raspberries has 10. A banana, however, has only 3-4 grams — and when it’s very ripe, it has even less.
  • Whole wheat bread and spaghetti. Here’s a good tip: if you want more fiber in your diet, replace the white flour in your diet with whole flour. This applies to bread, spaghetti, and every other flour-based product. A serving of whole wheat spaghetti contains around 5 grams of fiber, while whole wheat bread has about 2g per slice.

The study has been published in The Lancet.

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