A new Australian study gives us yet another reason to embrace a high-fiber diet — it helps promote “successful aging.” This is defined as the process of growing older naturally without the heavy burden of health and mental health problems, such as dementia, depression, respiratory symptoms, cancer, coronary artery disease and stroke.
“Out of all the variables that we looked at, fiber intake, which is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest, had the strongest influence,” said lead author Associate Professor Bamini Gopinath, Ph.D., from the Westmead Institute’s Centre for Vision Research.
“Essentially, we found that those who had the highest intake of fiber or total fiber actually had an almost 80 percent 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.”
For the study, researchers explored the link between carbohydrate nutrition and healthy aging using data gathered by the Blue Mountains Eye Study, a benchmark population-based study that examined more than 1,600 adults aged 50 years and older for long-term sensory loss risk factors and systemic diseases.
They found that out of all the factors they examined — which included a person’s total carbohydrate intake, total fiber intake, glycemic index, glycemic load, and sugar intake — it was the fiber that made the biggest impact on successful aging. Healthy fiber can typically be found in goods such as fruits (strawberries, rasberries, oranges, bananas, pears and apples), grains (cereals, breads, and pastas), nuts and seeds, and vegetables (artichokes, green pears, broccoli, turnip greens, corn, and brussels sprouts).
Although one might assume that the level of sugar intake would have made the biggest impact on successful aging, Gopinath pointed out that the particular group they examined were older adults whose consumption of carbonated and sugary drinks was already quite low.
While it is too soon to use the study results as a basis for dietary advice, Gopinath said the research has opened up a new path for exploration.
“There are a lot of other large cohort studies that could pursue this further and see if they can find similar associations. And it would also be interesting to tease out the mechanisms that are actually linking these variables,” she said.
The new findings add to the mounting evidence showing the importance of the overall diet on healthy aging.
In a similar study published last year, researchers found that, in general, adults who closely adhered to recommended national dietary guidelines reached old age with an absence of chronic diseases and disability, and had good functional and mental health status.
The new findings are published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.