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 high-fiber diet.
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.
Get the information you need to improve your health and wellness on Healthline.com.
Managing the Symptoms of Menopause. Menopause is a fact of life, but that's no reason to suffer. Learn to manage your menopause and perimenopause symptoms.
Signs of Fibromyalgia. Using this guide, find information about fibromyalgia, its symptoms, and possible solutions to your pain.
Is it Depression or the Blues? Learn how to tell the difference between a bad day and something more serious.
The Path to Quit Smoking Starts Now. Learn what happens to your body an hour, a day, a month, and a year after you kick the habit.