By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Consumption of fruit and its fiber content improves longevity for older adults at high risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a 2014 observational study conducted by Spanish researchers. Fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, is a kind of carbohydrate found in fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grain cereals that your body cannot break down during digestion. It helps keep the digestive tract functioning well by absorbing water and creating the bulk that enables intestines to push out waste products.
The 2014 Spanish study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was based on analysis of annual dietary data provided over an average of six years by more than 7,000 men and women aged 55 to 75; although all of the study participants were considered to be at high risk for CVD, all were free of the disease when the study began. The individuals with the highest intake of fruit and fiber had a significant association with lower risk of death during the trial period, and most notably in relation to death from cardiovascular causes.
Participants who had low fruit consumption before and through the study period had more than a two-and-a-half-fold higher risk of death compared with individuals who ate an adequate amount.
The most-frequently consumed fruits in the study were apples, pears, citrus fruits, and watermelon.
My Viewpoint: People forget the importance of fiber. It helps prevent constipation, may reduce the risk of getting colon cancer, and slows down absorption of simple sugars, thereby helping deter blood sugar spikes, weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes, and the risk of heart disease. The study was uniquely based on annual dietary assessments, unlike many other population studies that evaluate only before and after data. Moreover, unlike other studies looking at fruit and fiber consumption in connection with mortality, this was the first in which all the subjects were at risk.
What This Means to You: We’ve known for years that high fiber is important for the heart. That’s also because foods with fiber, such as fruits and vegetables, come with other significant ingredients like antioxidant compounds. And such foods are primary ingredients in an ultra-healthy anti-inflammatory diet that I recommend called the Pan-Asian Mediterranean Diet. Unfortunately, overall consumption of fruit and vegetables in the U.S. is inadequate, according to national surveys.
Recommendation: Step up your fruit content to increase your fiber intake. Snack on fruits (organic, if possible) instead of sweets. Men need 38 grams of fiber a day (30 grams if over the age of 50). Women, 25 and 21 grams respectively. Top fiber fruits include raspberries – 8 grams in a cup, blueberries – 4, strawberries – 3; prunes – 6 grams in a half-cup; pear – 4; orange, grapefruit, banana, and apple – 3; and a large fig – 2 grams.
- Buil-Cosiales P, et al. Fiber intake and all-cause mortality in the Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea (PREDIMED) study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014; 100 (6): 1498-1507. Published online at http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/100/6/1498.abstract?sid=3ccd67e0-a6be-4e69-a8c1-4ab9b3b251bc
- CDC. State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, 2013. Published online at http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/downloads/national-action-guide2013.pdf
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