High-fiber diets during early adult years may lower lifetime cardiovascular disease risk

A new study from Northwestern Medicine shows a high-fiber diet could be a critical heart-healthy lifestyle change young and middle-aged adults can make. The study found adults between 20 and 59 years old with the highest fiber intake had a significantly lower estimated lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease compared to those with the lowest fiber intake.  This is the first known study to show the influence of fiber consumption on the lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease.

“It’s long been known that high-fiber diets can help people lose weight, lower cholesterol and improve hypertension,” said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, M.D., corresponding author of the study and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “The results of this study make a lot of sense because weight, cholesterol and hypertension are major determinants of your long-term risk for cardiovascular disease.”

A high-fiber diet falls into the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 25 grams of dietary fiber or more a day.  Lloyd-Jones said you should strive to get this daily fiber intake from whole foods, not processed fiber bars, supplements and drinks.

“A processed food may be high in fiber, but it also tends to be pretty high in sodium and likely higher in calories than an apple, for example, which provides the same amount of fiber,” Lloyd-Jones said.

For the study, Hongyan Ning, M.D., lead author and a statistical analyst in the department of preventive medicine at Feinberg, examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative sample of about 11,000 adults.  Ning considered diet, blood pressure, total cholesterol, smoking status and history of diabetes in survey participants and then used a formula to predict lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease.

“The results are pretty amazing,” Ning said. “Younger (20 to 39 years) and middle-aged (40 to 59 years) adults with the highest fiber intake, compared to those with the lowest fiber intake, showed a statistically significant lower lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease.”  In adults 60 to 79 years, dietary fiber intake was not significantly associated with a reduction in lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s possible that the beneficial effect of dietary fiber may require a long period of time to achieve, and older adults may have already developed significant risk for heart disease before starting a high-fiber diet, Ning said.

As for young and middle-aged adults, now is the time to start making fiber a big part of your daily diet, Ning said.

Erin White is the broadcast editor. Contact her at ewhite@northwestern.edu

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Comments

Thanks for the interesting post on the intake of high-fiber diet in our early adult years that may help us to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. But what is still lacking that people are not taking enough fiber in their diets?

One of the changes I made as I got older was to switch from the bacon & eggs breakfast to oatmeal and fruit. It has definitely made a difference. I recommend that to everyone now.

This is really great news to be able to substantiate for younger people what they can do. Many younger people may not be seriously overweight (yet) and may look at long-term dietary advice from the perspective "I still have plenty of time."

Generally, when asked, I recommend simply to substitute wholegrain oats for processed carbohydrates in breakfast cereals and enriched them with a variety of fruit, which is particularly easy in the summer and autumn. This will not only provide the appropriate fibre but also introduce a range of phytonutrients virtually automatically. Blueberries, cranberry juice and grapes (preferably NOT the seedless variety) are really supportive of this effort to lay the foundations for long term cardiovascular health.

Thanks for the reminder that the presence of fiber is a key in every healthy diet. And mostly that if we "cheat" in our diets, it may soon become too late to fix that mistake.

As you had stated, high fiber intake is a key factor for lower lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease, and lifetime means consuming fibers all the time.

It only makes sense; fiber helps a person to feel fuller, longer, improves bowel transit time - and helps to flush out "bad" LDL cholesterol.

My Wife Just Started Making Fiber a Part of her Diet, and she says she feels a lot more energized. Thanks for the article. :)

I'm 25 and I've started to add beans to a lot of my dishes (spaghetti, rice and chicken etc.). I learned that for every gram of fiber you reduce 1 gram of carbs (so a meal that has 1 gram of fiber and 10 grams of carbs = 9 grams of carbs), good for people to know that are on a carb diet.
I wonder about supplements like Benefiber?

A high fiber diet is a key ingredient to good health for women and men, alike. Also, equally important, is to reduce the consumption of processed foods, as they are nutrient depleted and cause a lot of inflammation, which contributes to many disease processes.

Fiber is great substance to help relieve many health-related problems. Great post!

It's important to add fiber as well as exercise and a balance diet to prevent heart diseases. We can add food rich in fiber or take vitamin supplements to provide the body its needs

Thanks for the interesting post, the constructive research and the reminder that its better to look after our health even when we are young.

Do you know why the results for younger adults showed statistically significant results while the results for older people were not? Could the reason be that when we are getting older "the damage is already done"?

Thanks for sharing this information. I just start making fiber a part of my diet.

Fiber is a natural substance found in fruits, vegetables and grains. It is an essential part of healthy digestion. Additionally, fiber adds bulk to your diet, making you feel fuller sooner and longer. It helps aid digestion and can prevent constipation. :)

Most of us hate veggies because we are not used to eat them. It would be best to train our kids to eat veggies, which are rich in fiber. They are not only beneficial for their "growing up years," but they're a great advantage during their adult years, since they are the best way to fight cardiovascular diseases.

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