In a recent study of nearly one million people it was found that those who ate the most fibre were least likely to die of any cause.
Daily fibre intake
The finding might be explained by fibre's potential to lower the risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several types of cancer, researchers say.
Individuals should be encouraged to increase their dietary fibre intake "to potentially decrease the risk of premature death," Yang Yang, of the Shanghai Cancer Institute in China, and colleagues wrote in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
They pooled data from 17 previous studies that tracked 982,411 men and women, mostly in Europe and the U.S., and recorded about 67,000 deaths.
Yang's team divided participants into five groups based on their daily fibre intake. Those in the top fifth, who ate the greatest amount of fibre daily, were 16 percent less likely to die than those in the bottom fifth, who consumed the least amount of fibre.
Read: Extra fibre tied to lower risk of stroke
In addition, eight studies showed a 10 percent drop in risk for any cause of death with each 10-gram per day increase in fibre intake.
Fibre intake recommendation
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that adults consume 14 grams of fibre in every 1,000 calories they consume, the authors point out. That translates to approximately 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams daily for men.
"On average, intakes of dietary fibre in the U.S. and other economically developed countries are much lower than recommended goals – in the U.S., about half of what is advised," said Victoria Burley, a nutrition researcher at the University of Leeds in the UK, who was not involved in the study.
These study results are "very much in line with earlier published meta-analyses of the relationship between dietary fibre and risk of major chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, and cancers," Burley told Reuters Health in an email.
She said the benefits of consuming fibre-rich foods have been known for decades, including lowering of blood cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose and insulin, and possibly reducing inflammation.
High-fibre foods may also make people feel full sooner, and for longer, which helps curb overeating and weight gain, she added. "Some or all of these factors may underlie the reduction in mortality observed here."
Read: Low-fibre diet puts teens at risk for diabetes
It's not difficult to consume an extra 10 grams of fibre per day, Burley said. "This can come from two servings of whole grain foods, such as breakfast cereal and two servings of fruit or vegetables, for example."
Cautions on fibre
She cautioned, however, that the current study does not prove that eating more fibre is the reason some participants lived longer. Their reduced risk of death might be due to some other shared characteristic, like an overall healthier lifestyle, or perhaps some other property of the high-fibre foods, which tend to be nutritious in general.
Little is known about the best sources of fibre for reducing disease risk – whether the best sources are fruit and vegetables, legumes or grains, Burley pointed out. "Although there is increasing evidence that cereal grains may offer the best risk reductions for colorectal and cardiovascular disease," she said.
Burley said the study findings do not suggest taking dietary fibre supplements will have the same impact as eating fibre-rich foods.
Read: Am I eating enough fibre?
Jessica Shapiro, a wellness dietician at Montefiore Medicine Centre in New York, suggests reading labels and choosing foods with at least three grams of fibre per serving. She also encourages eating a variety of foods that are high in fibre at each meal and snack, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, seeds and nuts.
Shapiro said to be careful when going from a low-fibre diet to a high-fibre diet.
"Your body needs time to adjust, so increase fibre content slowly and make sure to consume extra water while doing so to help with digestion," she told Reuters Health in an email.
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Image: Grains on glass spoons from Shutterstock