What’s the one dietary habit? Eat more fiber.
There is a lot of confusing information about what healthy eating looks like. Is a low-fat or high-fat diet the best? Is eating meat good or bad for you? Should you fast periodically or eat every hour?
Probably the best advice that sorts through all the various studies comes from author Michael Pollen who, in his book “In Defense of Food,” sums up the advice from dietary research:
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
What he means by “eat food” is to avoid highly-processed food-like substances. He advises only eating food that your great-grandparents would recognize. Another way is to focus on the fiber content of food. Foods high in fiber tend to fit Pollen’s definition of “food” and fit the “mostly plants” directive.
High-fiber diets are associated with myriad health benefits:
- Decreased risk of four major diseases: A 2019 meta-study of over 243 studies found that people who ate at least 25-29 grams of fiber a day lowered their risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer, as well as their risk of dying early from any cause, by 15% to 30%.
- Longevity: A 2008 study found that “every additional 10 g of recent dietary fiber intake per day reduced coronary heart disease mortality by 17% and all-cause mortality by 9%.”
- Weight loss: Fiber consumption promotes weight-loss because it causes satiety and slows down digestion which helps your body better manage blood sugar levels. An especially interesting study on this point from 2019 had participants follow one of four diets with various macronutrient targets (low-fat/high protein, low-fat/average protein, high-fat/high protein, high-fat/average protein). The participants lost weight with all four diet plans but by digging into the data, the researchers found that dietary fiber consumption was associated with the greatest weight loss.
- Healthy Gut: Fiber consumption promotes healthy gut bacteria which provide metabolic, cardiovascular, hormonal, and even neurologic benefits.
But not all fiber is created equal. Experts advise getting fiber from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans; fiber supplements or processed foods with bulking fiber added don’t provide the same benefits. Note that meat contains zero fiber and processed foods contain little to no fiber.