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Want to avoid gaining weight? Get more fiber!
We all know that losing weight by simply eating less can be a bit of a challenge. Researchers have been studying the effects of different elements of foods with the goal of finding ways for people to lose weight more successfully. Fiber intake has been associated with weight loss in some studies, but none of those studies looked at the effects of fruit and vegetable intake, which are also good sources of fiber.

Being overweight decreases positive effects of high-fiber diet
Back in January I wrote about C-reactive protein (CRP), a blood marker of inflammation, which is related to chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Several other studies have suggested that one way to control the levels of CRP in the bloodstream is diet, particularly a high-fiber diet. In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine this week (2007;167:502-506), researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina tested that theory by recruiting 35 men and women to participate in a dietary study.

Low Glycemic Index vs. High Fiber Diet: Which is Better for Diabetics?
There's been a lot of talk about low-glycemic-index diets being better for helping diabetics control their blood sugars, but the studies that have been done tend to be small and of short duration. Back in 2008 researchers in Canada decided to improve on past studies by designing a larger, more long term study to compare the effects of a low glycemic index diet with a high cereal fiber diet.


 

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Fruits' fiber for life

a row of five pears with each pear having more bites taken out of it



The Mediterranean Diet is considered a pattern of eating with nine components: vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts, cereals (whole grains), fish, olive oil, dairy products, meats, and alcohol. Last week we discussed a study that suggests that it's the overall pattern - not one specific component - that contributes to reduced cellular aging. Nevertheless, research continues into the effects of the specific components in an effort to understand how those individual nine points contribute to the diet as a whole.

In Spain, an ongoing study known as PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) (in English: Prevention with the Mediterranean Diet) yields today's insights into the role of fiber in the Mediterranean Diet (Am J Clin Nutr 2014;100:1498-1507).

Between 2003 and 2009, the PREDIMED study authors recruited over 8,000 total participants: men between the ages of 55 and 80 and women 60 to 80 who were at increased risk of cardiovascular disease. They had no active heart disease at the start of the study, but they either had type 2 diabetes or had at least 3 risk factors for heart disease (these include things like smoking, high blood pressure, poor cholesterol scores, overweight or obesity, or family history of heart disease). The participants responded to detailed dietary questionnaires on a yearly basis and also provided blood samples for lab testing.

For this analysis, the researchers analyzed the dietary and health records of over 7,200 of the PREDIMED participants over a period of 5.9 years (on average). They compared the dietary fiber intakes of those who died during the study period with those who did not. They also broke down the analysis by the cause of death as well as the sources of fiber, including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Those participants with the most fiber of all types in their diet were 37% less likely to die from any cause than those with the least fiber in their diet. More interesting, however, is that the separate analyses of the different sources of fiber showed that while more fiber from fruit meant a lower risk of death, the same was not true of fiber from vegetables or from whole grains. Intrigued, the researchers compared low-glycemic-index fruits (such as cherries or grapefruit) with high-glycemic-index fruits (such as cantaloupe, watermelon, or pineapple), with no significant difference seen between the two types.

The researchers note that the Spanish population ate mostly white bread, so their intake of whole grains was fairly low, while their vegetable intake at the start of the study was already very high. This might affect the tendency for fruit intake to be the significant factor in their risk of death. That said, those individuals who increased their intake of fruit over the course of the study did have a reduced risk of death when compared to those whose intake of fruit remained low throughout, which suggests that it is indeed the fruit that was the significant factor.

What this means for you

Fruit is great for you for more reasons than just the fiber: they're a good source of many vitamins, including antioxidants, and make great snacks. Make fruit a larger part of your life with my tips on how to eat more fruit.

First posted: December 17, 2014