Diet trends come and go, but fiber is forever. Unlike paleo and raw food meal plans, high-fiber diets don’t stir up much debate among health experts, and new research published in The Lancet confirms why.
According to the review, which was commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) and assessed findings from nearly 250 prospective studies and clinical trials conducted over 40 years, eating at least 25 to 29 grams of dietary fiber per day is ideal for optimal health outcomes. Why? Studies found that people who ate the most fiber experienced a 15 to 30% decrease in all-cause mortality as well as cardiovascular-related deaths in comparison to those who ate the least fiber. So there’s that.
Research also showed that a high fiber intake was associated with less chronic disease among participants. That is, eating plenty of fiber-rich foods has been linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colorectal cancers. Fiber-rich foods are also known to help lower blood cholesterol levels and keep body weight in check, in part because they take longer to move through our systems and therefore keep us feeling full for longer.
Of course, not all carbohydrates (which is where we get much of our fiber from) are created equal. Above all, the study authors recommend replacing refined grains (think: cookies and cakes, white bread) with whole grains like oats, barley, and brown rice. Other fiber-packed foods include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Unless you’re scrupulously studying nutrition labels or Googling the fiber content of chickpeas at the salad bar, chances are the recommendation to eat 25 to 29 grams of fiber per day doesn’t mean a ton to you. To help you get a sense of how easy it is to meet that goal, the simple meal plan below provides a whopping 45 grams of fiber. Sound like overkill? According to a press release from the study’s authors, “Consuming 25 grams to 29 grams each day was adequate but the data suggest that higher intakes of dietary fibre [sic] could provide even greater protection.” In other words, feel free to be an overachiever when it comes to feeding your body fiber.
Just remember: Every body is different and some can experience discomfort (think: bloating, gas) when loading up on fiber-rich foods. People who have low iron levels may also want to keep their fiber consumption in check, as phytates—compounds found in plant foods like whole grains and beans—can interfere with iron absorption in the blood.
If you fall into either of the above categories, talk to a registered dietitian or physician about the best way to get adequate fiber while managing your symptoms. For the rest of you, eat all the fiber you want. Your heart (and digestive system and cholesterol levels and the scale) will thank you for it.
Breakfast: Oatmeal made with 1/2 cup of rolled oats topped with 1/4 cup of raspberries and 1/8 cup raw almonds (8 grams)
Snack: 1 cup baby carrots and 2 tablespoons hummus (4 grams)
Lunch: Kale salad with cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, chickpeas, avocado, and walnuts (18 grams)
Snack: Apple with plain Greek yogurt (4.5 grams)
Dinner: 1 cup brown rice, 1/2 cup black beans, roast chicken (10.5 grams)
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