Recent research about fiber has brought healthy complex carbs back into the news. It seems that in addition to being heart healthy and helping to keep cholesterol in check, it's really good for your brain. Here's a look at what the new research says plus some other surprising health benefits of eating a diet rich in fiber.
It can help prevent chronic diseases
People who eat a high-fiber diet everyday are less likely to suffer from a range of chronic diseases (coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer) compared to people who eat a diet low in fiber, according to a January 2019 study.
Andrew Reynolds, a researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand and co-author of the study, and his team were commissioned by the World Health Organization to analyze daily fiber recommendations. Reynold's team researched 180 studies and 50 clinical studies. "The health benefits of dietary fiber appear to be even greater than we thought previously," co-author Jim Mann, professor of human nutrition and medicine at the University of Otago, told CNN.
The team recommends that people consume at least 25 milligrams of dietary fiber a day. Those who follow a high-fiber diet had an overall lower risk of death from chronic illness, a 30 percent reduced risk of death from coronary heart disease, a 22 percent reduced risk of stroke and a 16 percent lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.
The only two caveats are that the studies and clinical trials analyzed for this research mainly focused on healthy individuals in western societies. The team couldn't definitively say if a high-fiber diet would have similar results in less-developed nations.
It delays brain aging
Based on research that showed older mice that consumed high-fiber diets had reduced rates of inflammation in their guts, scientists did a "genetic analysis of inflammatory markers" on humans and looked at the immune cell in the brain known as microglia. Researchers have found that "a high-fiber diet reduced inflammation in the brain's microglia," according to Medical News Today. Inflammation in microglia can cause a decline in memory and cognitive abilities as we age. Human diets rich in fiber can keep microglia inflammation down and may be helpful in combating dementia or Alzheimer's.
It decreases your risk of diverticulitis
Diverticulitis occurs when pouches in the lining of the intestine, known as diverticula, become inflamed. Diverticula often develop as people get older. When the diverticula are inflamed, it can cause abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea or constipation. According to WebMD, a diet rich in fiber may both soften and add bulk to the stool, making it easier to pass through the colon, decreasing the risk of the diverticula becoming inflamed.
It promotes healthy gut bacteria
The research that found fiber is good for the brain was based on research that showed fiber is good for the gut in mice. Fiber "feeds the billions of bacteria in our gut," as reported in The New York Times, and when our gut bacteria is happy, they help to keep the intestines and immune system working well. The mice that were fed low-fiber diets developed inflamed intestines, put on weight, and had higher blood sugar levels. While it was the healthy gut bacteria that kept these problems from occurring in some mice, it was the high-fiber diet that led to the healthy gut bacteria.
It promotes healthy bones
Here's another benefit that we don't automatically associate with a high-fiber diet: healthier joints and bones. Care2 reports that "eating more fiber may help prevent rheumatoid arthritis and build stronger bones." But, it's not the fiber that directly affects the joints and the bones; it's the healthy gut bacteria fed by the fiber that can keep us from developing health problems with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis.
It prevents hemorrhoid pain
If you're susceptible to hemorrhoid flareups, it's important to add fiber to your diet, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Adding fiber to your diet can help to soften the stool; a softer stool is less likely to aggravate hemorrhoids as it passes by them, which can cause pain or bleeding. During an active flare-up of hemorrhoids, fiber pills may be necessary to quicken the process, but eating a steady diet of fiber-rich foods can keep the flare-ups from happening in the first place.
Notice that various forms of the word "inflamed" pops up frequently in almost all of these health benefits. Perhaps what's more of a surprise here isn't how fiber is good for you, but how fiber is good for gut bacteria and how healthy gut bacteria keeps inflammation down.
That's something to remember the next time you're deciding between an apple and a glass of fruit juice.