Fiber is already known for its benefits in preventing heart attacks, diabetes, and some cancers. But now there’s more good news in new research that shows fiber may also help ward off lung disease even for people who can't quit smoking, a top expert says.
“While it’s impossible to say if eating more fiber will offset the effect of smoking on your lungs, it does improve lung function, both in smokers and in non-smokers as well," nutrition expert and researcher Corrine Hanson tells Newsmax Health.
Chronic obstructive lung disease, or COPD, is this country’s third leading cause of death. The lung disease affects more than 11 million people in the U.S., and it’s also estimated that an additional 12 million more may have it and are unaware, the American Lung Association says.
People with COPD suffer from chronic bronchitis and emphysema, or a mix of the two ailments. The disease, which is progressive, may eventually lead to death.
As the nation ages, the number of people with COPD is projected to grow, creating a major national health problem for which the only preventative strategy is to give up smoking.
“Many people can’t give up smoking, which is one of the reasons why we are so excited about this study,” says Hanson, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
In new research, led by Hanson, a team of specialists reviewed records of 1,921 adults, ages 40 to 79, who participated in a large national database compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is unique because it combines interviews with physical examinations.
They found that those people who ate the most fiber fared better in lung capacity tests. Specifically, 68.3 percent of the fiber eaters had normal lung function compared to 50.1 percent of those who did not eat a lot of fiber. In addition, just 14.8 percent of those with fiber-rich diets had airway restriction, compared to 29.8 percent of those who did not follow such diets.
Those with the highest fiber intake also had greater lung capacity and could exhale more air in one second, which are also important indicators of lung health.
Although, at its highest level, the effects of dietary fiber did not quite offset smoking, it still showed benefits equivalent to using an inhaler, Hanson says.
The study, which appears in the Annals of American Thoracic Society
, showed the benefits of fiber, but did not delve into how it might work. But Hansen believes this may be due to its anti-inflammatory benefits, which may also explain why it helps to prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other ailments as well.
“People with higher fiber intakes usually have lower markers for inflammation, so it’s possible that this is the benefit to COPD as well,” she notes. In addition, fiber may also play a favorable role in the formation of beneficial gut bacteria, which is increasingly found to be involved in good overall health, she adds.
But how are you sure you’re getting the right kind of fiber? Charles Platkin advises choosing whole foods in which fiber occurs naturally, instead of foods like cereal bars and other products that add it.
“There’s a lot of research that shows that its fiber combined with other vitamins and nutrients in food that may provide the benefits,” says Platkin, a bestselling author and director of the NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College.
Here are Platkin’s tips on boosting the fiber content of your diet:
- Wash but don’t peel fruits, vegetables. Eating the skin and membranes ensures that you get every bit of fiber. A baked potato with the skin has twice the fiber of a potato without the skin.
- Eat raw vegetables. Cooking them may reduce fiber content by breaking fiber down into its carbohydrate components. To avoid this effect, cook, microwave, or steam vegetables only until they are al dente – tender, but still firm to the bite.
- Choose whole fruits, vegetables. Juice does not contain as much fiber from the skin and membranes of whole fruits and veggies, and can also contain added sugar.
- Add bran or wheat germ to casseroles, meatloaf, and cooked cereal. Each tablespoon of bran adds more than 1 gram of fiber and can barely be detected when blended with some cereal or a casserole.
- Add vegetables to casseroles, soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta, and rice dishes. For example, simply add a cup of broccoli to a pasta dish for an extra 2 grams of fiber.
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