Soluble. Insoluble. Viscous. Fermentable. Fiber’s many forms can confuse the most ardent health nut and even nutrition professionals debate the precise benefits of each type. Thankfully, then, a series of recent studies have lifted one clear message above the noise: Don’t fret the categories, but focus on total fiber; getting lots of it from unprocessed plants will lower your risk of health problems well into your golden years.
That message has been taken to task by a French study. When researchers examining close to 6,000 people associated fiber intake with high blood pressure, cholesterol and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, they came up with a complex latticework of benefits by type and source of fiber. For example, fiber from cereals was linked to lower body mass index and blood pressure while fiber from dried fruit and nuts was associated with a lower waist-to-hip ratio.
With two exceptions, this type of breakdown is far too picky, says Texas A&M University nutrition scientist Joanne Lupton, who chaired a National Academy of Sciences panel on dietary reference intakes for fiber. “The more I read the studies,” she said, “the more it really is quite clear to me that it is fiber from the diet—total fiber—that’s beneficial.”