Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
One of the best ways to keep yourself healthy and at your best as you get older? Make sure you’re eating good-for-you foods. And, as I’m sure you already know, that includes eating plenty of fiber. You might be tired of hearing it, but you really do need to eat more fiber. Even if you think you’re getting plenty of fiber from your daily diet, the numbers don’t lie. As many as 95 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough. But now, there’s an even more pressing reason to get enough of this key nutrient. Without the proper amount of fiber, you could increase your risk for dementia.
Research suggests that running low on fiber can have a negative effect on your brain health, especially as you grow older. Here’s what you need to know about your fiber intake and its potential connection to neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.
Fiber is essential for a healthy brain
You might think that fiber is a necessary nutrient solely for your digestive system. But there’s plenty of evidence that suggests fiber is as crucial for keeping your digestion on track and bettering your brain health.
Past research suggests that getting plenty of fiber is associated with better cognitive control and reduced brain inflammation during aging, two factors that can play a role in your odds of developing diseases like dementia. And a new study published in Nutritional Neuroscience is now confirming there’s an association between the brain and how much fiber you’re eating.
Researchers in Japan used data collected between 1985 and 1999 from 3,739 healthy individuals between the ages of 40 and 64 years old. They followed up with those same participants from 1999 to 2000, making note of those who developed dementia and required care. From there, the researchers divided the participants into four groups based on how much fiber they consumed.
At the study’s end, researchers found that the participants who ate more fiber also saw a lower risk of developing dementia.
Why might fiber be able to reduce your odds of dementia? The researchers speculate that it may involve the gut-brain axis. Professor Yamagishi, the lead author of the study, told Science Daily, “One possibility is that soluble fiber regulates the composition of gut bacteria. This composition may affect neuroinflammation, which plays a role in the onset of dementia. It’s also possible that dietary fiber may reduce other risk factors for dementia, such as body weight, blood pressure, lipids and glucose levels.”
Soluble or insoluble: Which fiber is best to prevent dementia?
Overall, fiber is a great dietary addition when you’re working to keep your brain healthy at every age. But this recent study did delve into both soluble and insoluble fiber, providing better insight into which variety might be best for the brain.
Researchers examined whether there was a difference depending on the type of fiber consumed the most by participants. They found that participants who ate higher amounts of soluble fiber – the kind that feeds beneficial gut bacteria and is present in foods like oats and legumes – led to a more pronounced effect on their risk for dementia.
So, while fiber is important in any form, it just might pay off to increase your soluble fiber a little more than insoluble. You can find soluble fiber in foods like oats, legumes, apples, carrots and citrus fruits.
Need some ideas to increase your fiber intake and keep your brain healthy? We’ve got plenty:
- The 10 Best Ways to Boost Your Fiber Intake
- 11 Grown-Up Ways to Sneak More Veggies into Your Diet
- Easy, Life-Changing Habits That Can Foster Healthy Aging
Featured recipe: Chocolate Almond Butter Granola Bars