Staying Healthy With Dietary Fiber on Your Plate

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Low dietary fiber intake associated with obesity, inflammation, and metabolic syndrome

October 26, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) Are you having beans, leafy greens or another fiber-rich food for dinner? If not, you may be among the many Americans who don't get their recommended amount of dietary fiber — and your health may be suffering.

Recent research looked at the eating habits of a diverse group of Americans to see how dietary fiber affected certain aspects of their health.

They found that most of the participants weren't getting the recommended amount of daily fiber. Additionally, low fiber intake was associated with health conditions that could lead to heart disease and diabetes.

The authors of the study suggested that more research be conducted to increase Americans' fiber intake.

"Eat more dietary fiber."

Cheryl Clark, MD, ScD, of the Center for Community Health and Health Equity in Brigham and Women's Hospital led the study to see how dietary fiber consumption affected heart and metabolic health.

Dietary fiber is found in many vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains. The Institute of Medicine recommends that middle-aged men should eat 38 grams per day and middle-aged women should eat 25 grams per day.

This study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey — which collected information for 12 years on the health of a diverse population — and included 23,168 people.

The amount of dietary fiber that a person consumed was estimated using a computer-assisted, in-person interview about food intake.

Other information was also used, like waist circumference, whether the participant had high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar.

The researchers found that the vast majority of participants were not getting the recommended amount of fiber per day. On average, participants ate 16.2 grams per day. Young males consumed about 20 grams less dietary fiber than recommended.

Participants who were older than 51 years, male, Mexican-American, highly educated, former smokers, and physically active consumed more dietary fiber on average.

Young black men consumed less fiber than any other group, based on their recommended intake.

Rates of metabolic syndrome, or a combination of conditions that increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, inflammation and obesity all decreased as dietary fiber intake increased. However, of the study participants in the lowest 20 percent of dietary fiber intake, 34.7 percent had metabolic syndrome, 43.5 percent displayed above average inflammation, and 36.4 percent were obese.

On the other hand, participants in the top 20 percent of dietary fiber intake were significantly less likely to have metabolic syndrome, inflammation or obesity.

The researchers concluded that the average US adult doesn't get the recommended amount of dietary fiber. Additionally, they wrote that obesity, inflammation and metabolic syndrome was more common in people who ate less fiber.

The authors of this study noted that the study did have some limitations. The researchers were not able to see if the dietary fiber came from food sources or supplements, for example. However, the large study population allowed the researchers to look at trends across certain groups.

The researchers suggested that additional studies should be undertaken to discover the most effective ways to improve fiber intake.

"When the question of 'fiber' comes up in my practice, I always counsel people that non-starchy vegetables can provide all the fiber they need," Deborah Gordon, MD, nutrition and preventive medicine expert, told dailyRx News.

"I have many patients who avoid gluten, grains, or beans for other health reasons, but if they are following my advice, they are eating at least 2 cups a day of leafy greens (kale, lettuce, spinach, coleslaw) and another cup of seasonal vegetables," said Dr. Gordon, who was not involved in this study.

"I like to use dietary fiber rather than supplemental fiber because it provides more necessary nutrients and is gentler on the intestinal lining, but provides the same metabolic and motility benefits," she said.

The study was published in the American Journal of Medicine on October 16.

The researchers received institutional support from Partners Health Care and the Brigham and Women's Hospital Center for Community Health and Health Equity. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.