It almost sounds too good to be true. But a broad swath of medical research shows that one food ingredient can help protect you from a long list of diseases. It’s not a vitamin or mineral, or a fatty acid of some kind of new “super” antioxidant or herb.
It’s something else. And you miss out on this food component at your peril.
Unfortunately, a whopping 97 percent of Americans don’t get enough of it. Keep reading for the full story. . .
The miracle ingredient that too few of us eat?
An arthritis solution
One of the latest discoveries about eating fibrous fruits and vegetables is that they can limit your risk of developing arthritis in your knees.
This study, led by researchers at Tufts, incorporated two large analyses that involved about 6,000 people. Taken together, the research shows that the more dietary fiber you eat, the lower your risk of painful and arthritic knees.
The folks who ate the most fiber reduced their risk of knee arthritis by 30% compared to people who consumed hardly any fiber at all. The researchers believe that fiber helps protect knees by limiting inflammation and supporting weight loss.
Because fiber contains no calories and makes you feel full, eating plenty of it may allow you to eat less of everything else. It also may affect the brain in a way that quells appetite.1 And the less you weigh, the less stress there is on your knees when you walk or run.2
Avoid weak bones
Along with protecting joints, fiber also helps the body build stronger bones.
Research at Purdue demonstrates that fiber helps the body absorb more calcium so the mineral is available to be used to support the strength of the skeleton.
In the study, the researchers tested the effects of corn fiber. They found that consuming the fiber resulted in less fragile bones in both young women and older women after they reach menopause.
They attribute this effect to corn fiber’s role as a “prebiotic” – a nutrient that your body doesn’t absorb but which feeds the friendly bacteria in the digestive tract that, in turn, take part in the assembly of healthy bones.
More fiber, better health
Sometimes it seems as though the list of benefits for the fiber in fruits and vegetables is just about endless. Fiber can:
- Lower the risk of breast cancer: Research at Harvard shows that lifelong consumption of fiber reduces the chances of developing breast cancer. For every ten grams of daily fiber you eat during early adulthood (about the amount in ½ cup of cooked beans and ½ cup squash) you lower your risk of breast cancer by 13 percent. The scientists think that fiber reduces blood estrogen levels which are associated with breast cancer.3
- Ease the inflammation and pain of gout: Lab tests in Brazil show that fiber helps the probiotic bacteria in the intestines produce short chain fatty acids that slow inflammation in gouty joints.4
- Keep you healthier overall as you age: Research at the Westmead Institute in Australia found that older people who ate more fiber had more “successful” aging – they generally avoided eyesight and hearing problems while suffering less disability. They also experienced fewer memory problems and better breathing along with a lower risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, strokes and cancer.5
- Prevent infections in your digestive tract: An international study shows that fiber keeps digestive probiotic bacteria more robust and helps these friendly microbes keep out infectious bugs.6
- Reduce your risk of food allergies: Research at Monash University in Australia shows that the increasing number of people with food allergies is probably linked to their low-fiber diets. The Australian lab tests reveal that without fiber, malnourished gut bacteria are more likely to allow the immune system to react disastrously to foods like peanuts. But fiber enables gut microbes to keep immune responses under tighter control.7
American diet lacks fiber
Right now, the average American consumes about 15 grams of fiber a day. The Institute of Medicine recommends women get 25 grams of daily fiber and that men should take in 38 grams.
With a little attention to your choice of foods, it isn’t that hard to bump up your fiber consumption to a healthier level.
Follow these tips:
- Ditch the chips: Snack on berries, not processed treats. Berries have about 8 grams of fiber per cup and plenty of other benefits.
- Get nutty: Snack on nuts. Every cup of nuts has about 9 grams of fiber. And the fat in nuts improves heart health.
- Veg out: Eat plenty of vegetables at every meal. Those highest in fiber include okra (8 grams a cup), artichokes (more than 10 grams in each one), squash (9 grams a cup) and turnips (10 grams a cup).
In general, when you eat plenty of unprocessed fruits, vegetables and nuts, you just about can’t go wrong as far as fiber goes. And even coffee has some fiber in it. So if you have an apple (3 grams) and a cup of coffee (almost 2 grams) for an afternoon pick-me-up, you’ve just added about 5 grams of fiber to your day.
When I started to take a close look at all the research that discusses fiber, I was swamped with studies – fiber helps just about every part of the body. That’s why everybody should be filling every meal with fiber.