By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that dietary fiber is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. And countless studies have shown that fiber can help prevent colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease and even type 2 diabetes. Fiber not only reduces the digestion and absorption of macronutrients, it also decreases the time carcinogens stay in the intestines by providing bulk and softening your stool, helping to encourage faster elimination.
Considering how nutritious and beneficial dietary fiber is, there have to be other health advantages beyond these well-known ones… and that is exactly what three researchers from the University Of Illinois aimed to find out by conducting a clinical review of existing studies on dietary fiber’s benefits beyond these three diseases.
For purposes of their study, researchers defined dietary fiber as non-digestible food ingredients that include non-starch polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, lignin and analogous polysaccharides. Fiber-rich foods that contain these natural components include flaxseed and various whole grains.
They also examined prebiotic dietary fiber, which stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and helps boost these good bugs’ chances of survival in the harsh intestinal environment.
Douse the Inflammation
Chronic inflammation in the body is a huge “hidden” cause of many debilitating and dangerous health problems, including heart disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the most notable discoveries researchers made during their review was that dietary fiber appears to be a natural anti-inflammatory, decreasing markers in the body associated with inflammation, including C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a strong predictor of heart disease.
In an examination of results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which followed 14,533 adults, total, insoluble, and soluble fiber intakes were all linked to lower serum CRP levels. In addition, a subgroup of participants suffering from chronic kidney disease who reported consuming high amounts of dietary fiber had lower mortality.
As mentioned earlier, chronic inflammation is often associated with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as age-related cognition problems. Fortunately, researchers found some evidence that dietary fiber has been found to help in this regard, as well.
In one study, a breakfast bar with 1.5 grams of fiber helped to improve mood, as well as performance in a free recall task. In addition, in a study of 394 postmenopausal women, use of lignin fiber improved cognitive performance.
The Pros of Prebiotics
Researchers also noticed a positive anti-inflammatory trend with dietary prebiotics. Some of the most familiar prebiotics are fructooligosaccharides, galactooligosaccharides, and inulin.
For instance, when fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides were added to infant formula, children had long-term protection against inflammatory conditions like allergies and infection. Specifically, these two prebiotics were added to the formula of 134 infants for six months. These children ended up with decreased incidence of atopic dermatitis, wheezing and upper respiratory infections in the two years following the study.
Similarly, college students experienced fewer inflammatory conditions with prebiotic use. When given 2.5 or 5 grams of galactooligosaccharide supplements, they suffered less gastrointestinal infections, as well as shorter durations of colds and flu.
Up Your Fiber Intake
As if protection from cancer, heart disease and diabetes wasn’t enough, now you have even more reason to increase the amount of fiber in your diet. Dousing inflammation in your body is an enormous step to reducing your risk of many diseases, so even though fiber may not be the “sexiest” of terms, it’s still one you should still be intimately familiar with.
Fortunately, adding more fiber to your diet is not as daunting of a task as it may seem.
First, switch out all refined flour products — such as breads, pastas and cereals — for whole-grain varieties. Make sure the label reads 100 percent whole grain or whole wheat. Also replace white rice with brown rice, and add tasty and highly nutritious whole grains like quinoa and amaranth to your diet. These can be found in your local health food store or in the natural food section of your grocery store.
Ground flaxseed is also a wonderful source of fiber, as are whole fruits and vegetables. And if you still don’t feel like you are getting enough fiber in your diet, you can always start taking fiber supplements, which are readily available at pharmacies, health food and grocery stores and online.
In addition, you can make sure you’re getting enough prebiotics by eating the following foods as often as possible: chicory, onions, leeks, garlic, asparagus, prunes and bananas. You also can find prebiotics in supplement form.
 Kaczmarczyk MM et al. The health benefits of dietary fiber: Beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism. 2012, doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2012.01.017.
 Krishnamurthy VM et al. High dietary fiber intake is associated with decreased inflammation and all-cause mortality in patients with chronic kidney disease. Kidney Int. 2012;81:300–6.
 Smith AP and Wilds A. Effects of cereal bars for breakfast and mid-morning snacks on mood and memory. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2009;60(Suppl 4): 63–9.
 Franco OH et al. Higher dietary intake of lignans is associated with better cognitive performance in postmenopausal women. J Nutr. 2005;135:1190–5.
 Arslanoglu S et al. Early dietary intervention with a mixture of prebiotic oligosaccharides reduces the incidence of allergic manifestations and infections during the first two years of life. J Nutr. 2008;138:1091–5.
 Hughes C et al. Galactooligosaccharide supplementation reduces stress-induced gastrointestinal dysfunction and days of cold or flu: a randomized double-blind control trial in healthy university students. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93:1305–11.