Want to live longer? Eat lots of fibre, study suggests

Make sure you're loading up on fibre, Australian scientists say in a new study.
Make sure you're loading up on fibre, Australian scientists say in a new study. Jacques Boissinot / The Canadian Press

You’ve been told to load up on fibre to feel full, lower cholesterol and to keep your trips to the washroom regular. But scientists say they may have uncovered another benefit: fibre may help us live longer and stave off disease well into old age.

Australian researchers out of the Westmead Institute for Medical Research say that making fibre part of a regular diet made “the biggest difference” when it comes to aging well.

Their findings are based on studying more than 1,600 adults who were 50 or older. The scientists wanted to know how nutrition – specifically carbohydrates – affected aging. They say theirs is the first study to look at this link.

“Out of all the variables that we looked at, fibre intake – which is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest – had the strongest influence,” Dr. Bamini Gopinath, the study’s lead author, said.

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Gopinath said the team defined successful aging as adults who weren’t dealing with disability, depression, brain health impairment, breathing problems or any chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.

The researchers looked at the study participants’ eating habits, including fibre intake, glycemic index, glycemic load and sugar intake. Ultimately, it was how much fibre people ate that stood out.

“Essentially we found that those who had the highest intake of fibre or total fibre actually had an almost 80 per cent greater likelihood of living a long and healthy life over a 10-year follow-up. That is, they were less likely to suffer from hypertension, diabetes, dementia, depression and functional disability,” she explained in a statement.

What’s worth noting is that the study participants, on a whole, weren’t drinking much soda or sugary drinks.

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Dietary fibre is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. The Heart and Stroke Foundation, for example, points to oatmeal, dried beans, peas and lentils, and apples, strawberries and citrus fruit as key sources of fibre.

The medical community says it helps with lowering cholesterol levels, controlling blood sugar levels and maintaining a healthy weight.

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For now, Gopinath says it’s too soon to make dietary recommendations based on her findings. They’re enough to study further, though.

The full findings were published Thursday in the Journals of Gerontology.