Whole Grains Are Better at Reducing Inflammation Than Other Types of Fiber, New Study Suggests

Fiber is good for your health overall, and it can help lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels.

Various whole grain options on a white wooden table
Photo: Mike Kemp / Getty Images

There are plenty of benefits to eating fiber-rich foods. For one, fiber takes longer to digest so it keeps you feeling fuller for longer, but also fiber helps lower your cholesterol, control blood sugar levels, and maintain a healthy weight. While you can get fiber from a variety of foods—think berries, broccoli, and green peas—a new study published in JAMA Network Open found that fiber from whole grains is correlated to decreased inflammation in the body.

To obtain their findings researchers from Columbia University used data from the Cardiovascular Health Study, an observational study of risk factors for cardiovascular disease in adults 65 years or older. From 1989 to 2015 the researchers surveyed more than 4,000 people who underwent annual extensive clinical examinations. Additionally, dietary intake was assessed by a questionnaire that asked the participants to log their eating habits and blood samples were drawn to gauge inflammation. They found that higher dietary fiber intake, primarily from consuming cereal fiber, was associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers.

Although fruits and vegetables are widely known ways to work fiber into your diet, this study found that consuming those foods wasn't consistently associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers. This means that specifically cereal fibers may be more effective at reducing systemic inflammation. What's more, cereal fiber was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. "Higher intakes of dietary fiber is associated with lower CVD risk," study author Rupak Shivakoti, Ph.D., says in a media release. "A common hypothesis has been that higher fiber intakes reduce inflammation, subsequently leading to lower CVD risk. With findings from this study, we are now learning that one particular type of dietary fiber—cereal fiber—but not fruit or vegetable fiber was associated with lower inflammation."

While the data suggests that fiber may have anti-inflammatory effects by improving gut function and modifying diet and satiety, it's unclear why cereal fiber is more closely associated with lower inflammation than fruit and vegetable fiber—a quandary that Shivakoti says needs further investigation. Shivakoti also notes that it's unclear whether cereal fiber or other nutrients in foods with cereal fiber are causing the decrease in inflammation and lower cardiovascular disease risk.

No matter what the relationship is, it's clear that foods with cereal fiber have a proven positive impact on the body. If you want to incorporate this carbohydrate into your own diet, we recommend reaching for whole grains, like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread, and oatmeal the next time you're at the grocery store.

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