Eating more grain fiber may fight chronic inflammation

Key points to remember

  • Chronic inflammation is linked to negative health outcomes, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes.
  • A new study has found that grain fiber can help reduce inflammation, although researchers aren’t sure why this type of fiber might be more helpful than others.
  • Eating enough fiber from any source has health benefits, like better gut health.

From promoting feelings of fullness and supporting gut health to potentially reducing the risk of heart disease, we know that eating enough fiber is important to our health.

While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that most adults aim to get 20-36 grams of fiber each day, we don’t often hear which ones type of fiber is the most helpful.

A new study published in Open JAMA Network found that certain types of dietary fiber may have a greater effect on our health than others, particularly in managing inflammation in our bodies.

What is low-grade systemic inflammation?

Low-grade systemic inflammation means that there is inflammation throughout your body. It happens when your body is constantly defending itself against stress, infection, or chronic disease. Studies have shown that low-grade systemic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer.
Some factors that cause your body to enter a pro-inflammatory state, such as your genetics, are not something you can control. However, there are some things you can change that can help reduce or prevent inflammation, such as managing stress and maintaining a weight that’s right for you. Fiber is a nutrient that has anti-inflammatory properties.

Dietary fiber and inflammation

Research has shown that dietary fiber can help reduce inflammation. That said, there are still many unanswered questions about fiber and inflammation.

For example, it is unclear whether there is an association between fiber and inflammation in the elderly. The researchers also don’t know if the fiber source affects inflammation levels differently in generally healthy people.

To try to answer some of these questions, researchers at Columbia University looked at data from the Cardiovascular Health Study, an observational study that examines risk factors for heart disease in adults aged 65 or older. The researchers included 4,125 cohort participants in their study.

Each participant’s food intake was assessed using a food frequency questionnaire and their inflammation levels were checked using blood samples taken at the start of the study.

Researchers looked at each person’s total fiber intake as well as individual sources of fiber (cereals, vegetables, and fruits). Next, they analyzed the data to see if there was a potential association between dietary fiber intake and levels of inflammation.

The results showed that total fiber was consistently associated with lower inflammation and a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Specifically, grain fiber, but not fruit or vegetable fiber, was linked to reduced inflammation. The researchers said the results suggest cereal fiber may be more effective at reducing levels of systemic inflammation than other types of fiber.

Cereal fiber was also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. However, the researchers said the link between grain fiber and heart disease risk was more likely related to factors other than inflammation.

For example, it’s possible that some people who ate more grain fiber were replacing less healthy food choices with grains.

Study limitations

While the results may be a boon for fiber fans, the research had significant limitations.

Melissa Azzaro, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and podcast host at Hormonally Yours, told Verywell that “while it’s interesting that this study showed that cereal fiber was linked to a lower risk of inflammation and heart disease, the reasons were unclear.”

However, Azzaro also noted that “we know from previous studies that oat fiber, for example, has benefits on cardiovascular disease and cholesterol levels.”

Christine Byrne, MPH, RD, LDN, a non-dietary private dietitian, told Verywell that the potential to reduce inflammation isn’t the only reason fiber is important for your health.

“This study only measured the association between different fiber types and inflammation, [but] fiber has many other benefits,” Byrne said.

For example, Byrne highlighted prebiotics found in many fruits and vegetables, which can help promote a “healthier and more diverse gut microbiome.”

Beyond a bowl of cereal

Given the name, you might think “cereal fiber” means having a bowl of your favorite cereal for breakfast. While this is one way to get fiber into your day, it’s not the only one.

From soluble beta-glucan to insoluble cellulose, grains and grain fiber are found in a variety of foods, such as:

  • Fiber
  • whole wheat bread
  • oats
  • Whole wheat dough
  • Brown rice
  • But
  • Seeds
  • Barley
  • Other whole grains

That said, if you’re looking forward to a bowl of Bones or Flakes in the morning, you don’t necessarily have to swap it out for anything else.

Azzaro said “cereals can be part of a healthy diet,” but they recommend choosing varieties that are low in sugar and high in fiber, like oats and wheat bran.

To make a balanced meal, combine grains with eggs and milk for protein and fruit for antioxidants and added fiber.

Azzaro also said that if you choose cereal, be “conscious of the serving size” to avoid a blood sugar spike.

Don’t focus on just one fiber

Since only about 5% of Americans get the recommended amount of fiber daily, focusing on one fiber over another may not be the priority.

If you’re not getting enough fiber, it will be beneficial to increase your intake, whether you choose mostly grains or other forms.

“It’s well established that all types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and from all types of plant sources, have health benefits,” Byrne said.

While the new study may have suggested that grain fiber is best at reducing inflammation, Byrne said “there’s no reason to start prioritizing grain over other sources. fiber like fruits and vegetables.

What this means for you

Eating more fiber in cereals, such as whole grains, can help fight chronic inflammation. Reducing levels of inflammation in your body can also help protect you from chronic disease.

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