Live longer on this diet

The Christmas/New Year ‘throw-diets-to-the-wind’ extravaganza is over and a landmark World Health Organisation (WHO) review offers a timely guide to what next.

Research has found the key to a reduced incidence of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and other chronic diseases. And the findings will form the basis for WHO guidelines.

In a nutshell (pun intended), fashionable low-carb diets are out and fibre – think wholegrain cereals, pastas and bread and nuts and pulses – is in.

Professor Jim Mann, of the University of Otago in New Zealand, said that the research provided very strong evidence that a high-fibre diet had an enormous protective effect on a wide range of diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The research, conducted over 40 years and reported in The Lancet, found significant health benefits from eating at least 25 to 29 grams or more of dietary fibre a day and preferably 30-plus grams.

“The results suggest a 15–30 per cent decrease in all-cause and cardiovascular related mortality when comparing people who eat the highest amount of fibre to those who eat the least,” it says. “Eating fibre-rich foods also reduced incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer by 16–24 per cent. Per 1000 participants, the impact translates into 13 fewer deaths and six fewer cases of coronary heart disease.”

It also said that increasing fibre intake was associated with lower bodyweight and cholesterol, compared with lower intakes.

Worldwide, most people consume less than 20 grams of dietary fibre per day.

The median fibre intake for Australian adults was 20.7 grams. Only 28.2 per cent meet the adequate intake target and less than 20 per cent meet the suggested target. In the UK, only nine per cent of adults reach the 30 grams target, and in the US, fibre intake among adults averages 15 grams per day.

“Our findings provide convincing evidence for nutrition guidelines to focus on increasing dietary fibre and on replacing refined grains with whole grains. This reduces incidence risk and mortality from a broad range of important diseases,” said Professor Mann.

The review found that for an eight-gram increase in dietary fibre eaten per day, total deaths and incidences of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer decreased by five to 27 per cent. Protection against stroke and breast cancer also increased.

John Cummings, emeritus professor of experimental gastroenterology at the University of Dundee and one of the authors of the review, said: “This is the end of 50 years of researching dietary fibre. It is a defining moment. We now know that fibre does things in the body which give us a credible explanation for how this works.”

The authors noted that while the study did not show any risks associated with dietary fibre, high intakes might have ill effects for people with low iron or mineral levels as high levels of whole grains can further reduce iron levels.

The Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel emphasises that fibre is particularly important for older people because the digestive system slows with age.

It offers the following information to gauge your fibre intake:

  • 2 whole wheat cereal biscuits (for example Weetbix or Vita Brits): 3.2g
  • 4 slices wholegrain bread: 5.7g
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter: 2.7g
  • 2 pieces of fruit (apple and pear): 4.9g
  • 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables: 8.6g
  • 1 small boiled potato with skin (100g): 2.8g
  • 1 cup white cooked spaghetti: 2.5g
  • 2 wholemeal dry biscuits: 1.5g
  • 25 almonds: 3g
  • 1 cup whole fruit juice: 0.5g.

Are you confident your diet contains enough fibre? Do you shun white breads and rice for brown or wholemeal?

Written by Janelle Ward

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