Behind the headlines

Can fibre help you live longer after a heart attack?

News article about health benefits of fibre

"A bowl of breakfast cereal every day increases heart attack survivors’ chances of living longer, claim researchers."

- Daily Mail 30 April 2014

This study made headlines in the Guardian, Daily Star, BBC News and others. It found that heart attack survivors who ate more fibre after their heart attacks tended to live longer than those who didn’t. Compared with fibre from pulses, fruits and vegetables, fibre from cereals (wheat, rice, oats, corn and rye) had the strongest link with living longer.

But not all cereal-based foods are high in fibre and it’s not necessarily the case that a daily bowl of breakfast cereal will help you live longer. Some cereals are low in fibre (most rice and corn-based cereals) and many contain added sugar or salt.

The study was led by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health, and was funded by the US National Institutes of Health. Researchers analysed data from more than 4,000 Americans who participated in two large studies of health professionals. Each person was followed for an average of nine years. They calculated dietary fibre intake before each person’s heart attack and looked at their survival rates. The group that ate the most fibre had a 25 per cent lower risk of dying compared with the group that ate the least fibre.

We do know that, on average, we’re not getting enough fibre in our diets

One possible flaw in the study is that it was based on what people recorded about their diet when they filled in questionnaires twice a year, so it may not have been completely accurate. Also, foods that are high in fibre often also contain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, so it’s not certain that the fibre itself is responsible for the effect seen.

Victoria Taylor, our Senior Dietitian, said: “High-fibre foods are a key part of a healthy balanced diet and this study suggests they may have a particular benefit for heart attack survivors.

“We can’t say for sure what caused the fibre benefit. But we do know that, on average, we’re not getting enough fibre in our diets. Most people get around 14g a day – we should aim for at least 18g.

“Fibre comes from a range of foods, including fruit and veg, beans and lentils and also from cereal products, which this study found to be particularly beneficial. To get more fibre, you can make simple swaps such as trading white bread for wholemeal or granary versions, white rice for brown rice or pasta, and opting for higher fibre breakfast cereals like porridge or muesli without added salt or sugar.”

Read more about healthy eating

Read the original study as published in the British Medical Journal

Read more from Behind the Headlines about whether getting angry can trigger a heart attack

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