Study: Want to Live Longer? Switch to Whole Grains

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Eating a fiber-heavy diet helped reduce people’s risk of death from heart disease, infectious or respiratory disease, or any cause by 22%, according to a new study.

What’s more, people who were in the highest fiber-intake group (29.4 g per day for men and 25.8 g for women) were also less likely to develop those diseases than people with the lowest levels of fiber consumption (12.6 g per day for men and 10.8 g for women).

That’s good motivation to adhere to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), which called on Jan. 31 for increased consumption of fiber through whole grains, enriched foods and fresh fruits and veggies. The DGA recommends 14 g of dietary fiber per 1,000 calories per day — which totals about 25 g of fiber a day.

Dietary fiber is the edible part of a plant that is difficult to digest — found in wheat bran and green, leafy vegetables — and is known to improve health in a number of ways. It is thought to lower risks of heart disease, some cancers, diabetes and obesity, and it’s known to reduce cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. According to background information in the study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, it also binds to potential cancer-causing agents so the body can flush them out.

For the study, researchers looked at mortality data for 219,123 men and 168,999 women, who completed questionnaires about their eating habits between 1995 and 1996 as part of the longitudinal National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study.

During nine years of follow-up, 20,126 men and 11,330 women died. People who ate the highest amounts of fiber were 22% less likely to die of any cause than people who ate the least fiber. Further, men in the highest quintile were 24% less likely to suffer from cardiovascular, infectious or respiratory diseases than men in the lowest quintile, and for women the reduction in risk was 34%.

Researchers noted that fiber from grains, such as in whole-grain bread or brown rice, but not fiber from fruits, was associated with the reduced risk of death in both men and women.