From age 9 on, women and girls should eat between 22 and 28 grams of fiber per day, according to the 2015-2020 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Fiber is the nondigestible part of plants we eat, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, beans, and legumes. Because most people in the United States don’t eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, they also don’t eat enough fiber.
A study suggests that women who ate the most fiber in high school had a lower risk of breast cancer as they aged, compared to women who ate the least amount of fiber in high school. But there are some issues with the research.
The study was published online on Feb. 1, 2016 by the journal Pediatrics. Read “Dietary Fiber Intake in Young Adults and Breast Cancer Risk.”
You’ve probably heard about this study because it’s being covered by media outlets across the country and being talked about on social media. And while the results of the study seem promising, it’s important to know how the researchers determined how much fiber the women in the study ate when they were in high school.
The 44,263 women in the study are all nurses. When they were between 33 and 52 years old, they were asked about their diet in high school. This means the women had to remember in detail what they ate 18 to 37 YEARS ago. Since many people can’t remember what they ate 6 months ago, it seems very, very unlikely that the women accurately remembered what they ate in high school.
The conclusion of the paper is completely dependent on the women accurately remembering what they ate. So, since it’s unlikely the women’s memories are correct, the paper’s conclusion has to be questioned.
It’s also important to know that this study isn’t a representative sample of women in the United States.
The study is an analysis of information collected as part of the Nurses 2 study, an ongoing study designed to study links between diet and lifestyle factors and diseases such as cancer.
The 44,263 women filled out food surveys on what they ate in high school in 1998. Since that time, 1,118 of the women have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Based on the results of the food surveys, the researchers concluded that women who ate the most fiber in high school had a lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who ate the least fiber in high school.
Because of the questions about the paper’s conclusions, more research is needed before we really know if eating fiber in high school is linked to a lower risk of breast cancer.
Fiber is definitely an important component of a healthy diet. Fiber can help keep bowel movements regular and ease constipation. It also can help keep glucose levels low, which can lower your risk for diabetes.
The USDA guidelines recommend about 3 cups of vegetables per day and 2 cups of fruit per day for women (for men the recommendations are 4 cups of vegetables and 2.5 cups of fruit).
Nutrition experts say that variety is key, because different fruits and vegetables have different nutrients as well as different amounts of fiber. One way to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables is to eat foods with all the colors of the rainbow. Green is broccoli. Red is peppers. Yellow is a banana. Purple is eggplant. Orange is an orange. Or try to eat dark green vegetables (think spinach, collard greens, or kale) at one meal, and orange (carrots, sweet potatoes, or squash) the next. Cut up an apple into your morning cereal and have a peach with your lunch. Frozen raspberries or blackberries are a yummy dessert. Be creative!
For more information on nutrients, fiber, and healthy eating, visit the Breastcancer.org Nutrition section.