The best diet to help you live
longer isn’t costly or hard to find—chances are that you already have some of the
right foods in your fridge or pantry. And if you don’t, they are available at
every grocery store. What’s the miracle ingredient? A new study of
nearly 400,000 people by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American
Association of Retired People (AARP) found that men and women who ate a
fiber-rich diet had a lower risk of death from any cause during the nine year
study period. The research, which was published in Archives of Internal
Medicine, is the first to ever link eating more fiber with improved longevity.
An even more recent study
by the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research
also reported that if we ate more fiber—and less red meat—more than 64,000
cases of cancer cases would be prevented each year. What makes fiber such a
nutritional powerhouse and which foods are most crucial to adding years to your
life? Here’s a closer look at the new research.
How much impact does a high-fiber diet have on one's lifespan? In the
NIH-AARP study, men ages 50 and older who ate the most fiber were up to 56
percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease (the leading killer of
Americans), infectious diseases, and respiratory disorders, compared to those
who ate the least fiber. For women ages 50 and over, a high-fiber diet reduced
risk of death due to these causes by up to 59 percent. What’s more, the total
number of deaths in women on a high-fiber diet was 22 percent lower during the nine year
study, compared to a 21 percent lower rate of deaths in men who consumed a
How does fiber affect cancer risk? Fiber helps protect against
colon cancer (also called colorectal cancer), the second leading cause of
cancer death for men and women in the US.
Over a lifetime, the risk of developing colon cancer is about 1 in 20. The
AICR-WCRF study estimates that about 45 percent of cases could be prevented if
Americans ate more plant-based, fiber-rich foods, cut down on red and processed
meat, drank less alcohol, exercised more, and stayed lean. “This report show
that colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers,” said Elisa
Bandera, MD, PhD, who served on the group’s expert panel.
Which foods improve longevity the most? The NIH-AARP study found
that fiber from whole grains, such as barley, buckwheat, oats, whole wheat,
quinoa, rye, brown or wild rice, and amaranth, appeared the most beneficial at reducing the risk of death in older people during the nine year study. The WCRF/AICR
recommends building a diet around legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fruits,
while limiting red or processed meat to less than 18 ounces (four to five small
servings) per week. Since fiber is filling, it helps you slim down, which also
improves longevity. Research shows that obesity is as bad as smoking in terms
of shortening lifespan.
How much fiber do I need? Government guidelines advise eating 14
grams of fiber for each 1,000 calories consumed. Most Americans eat about half
that amount. In the NIH-AARP study, participants with the highest fiber diets
ate up to 26 grams daily for women and 29 grams for men. There are two types of
fiber: insoluble fiber which promotes passage of food through the digestive
system, helping reduce colon cancer risk and found in whole wheat, bran, nuts and
many vegetables; and soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and blood
sugar. It’s found in foods like oats, peas, apples, beans, carrots and psylium.
If you’re not used to a high-fiber diet, add more fiber gradually over a few
weeks to help your body adjust to the change.