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High Fiber Equals Lower Risks

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
December 1, 2004

People who eat at least three or more servings of whole-grain foods each day may lessen their chances of developing "metabolic syndrome," according to a study funded by the Agricultural Research Service.

Metabolic syndrome is a condition marked by a combination of abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, poor blood sugar control, low HDL "good" cholesterol and high blood fats. The constellation of health conditions increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The findings are based on an ARS-funded study of food consumption data and medical tests from 2,834 volunteers reported in Diabetes Care. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Nutritional epidemiologist Nicola McKeown, with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Mass., headed the study.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates fat and sugar metabolism. In Type 2 diabetes, either the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or the body cannot correctly use it. The result is that unhealthy levels of sugar build up in the blood, instead of energizing muscles and other body parts.

The health benefits observed among those who consumed three or more servings of whole-grain foods each day included better insulin metabolism. Those with metabolic syndrome tend toward insulin resistance.

Adding three servings of whole grains a day is not that difficult to do, according to McKeown. She suggests replacing white rice with brown rice, white bread with whole-wheat bread, and choosing whole-grain breakfast cereals.

In addition, the fiber content of most foods can be found by looking at the Nutrition Facts Panel on packages. Foods that have at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving are considered to be a "good source of fiber" and can make that claim on the front of the wrapper, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.

Read more about this research in the December issue of Agricultural Research magazine.