Jump on the ‘bran wagon’ for better health

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD

It may be time to jump on the “bran wagon,” if you’re not already on it.


In a study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers report that eating a high fiber diet reduces the risk of dying at an early age from a variety of causes, including heart disease, respiratory and infectious diseases, and among men, cancer.


During a 9-year study looking at diet and health, more than half a million AARP members between the ages of 50 and 71 completed a survey about their eating habits. Those who reported eating the most fiber (about 30 grams a day for men, and 26 grams a day for women) were 22% less likely to die from any cause during the study compared to those consuming the least amount (about 13 grams for men and 11 grams for women). [more]


Compared with men in the low fiber group, men in the high fiber group had a 24% – 56% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and infectious and respiratory diseases. Women consuming the highest amount of fiber had a 34%-59% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and infectious and respiratory diseases compared to women consuming the lowest amount, but there was no difference in cancer death rates.


In this study, it was the fiber from whole grains that was most strongly linked to a lower risk of dying. Although the fiber from vegetables and legumes appeared to have a pretty low impact on death risk, and the fiber in fruit appeared to offer no protection at all, these foods are packed with many other nutrients important for overall health – and are generally low in calories – so it’s a good idea to include a variety of them in your diet, along with whole grains.


So, the good news is that eating a lot of fiber each day may keep you living longer. The bad news? The majority of us are not eating anywhere near the amounts that provided the biggest benefits in this study group. Most of us, according to the US Department of Agriculture, are eating only about 15 grams of fiber per day, compared to the 25-30 grams per day that appeared so beneficial.

So, just what does 25-30 grams of fiber a day look like?  Here’s an idea:



½ cup 100% bran flakes

8.3 grams

1 medium banana

3.1 grams





Turkey, whole wheat bread, lettuce & tomato

4.5 grams

6 baby carrots

2 grams





2 cups popped popcorn

2.3 grams





Taco made with corn tortilla

1.4 grams

½ cup corn and black bean salad

5.2 grams




26.8 grams

Pretty easy and still delicious. With a little planning and know-how, you can easily boost your fiber intake, and your health. (If you haven’t been eating much fiber, do your digestive tract a favor and do a gradual increase, and drink plenty of fluids!)  Here are a few ideas to get you started:


  • Read the label on breads, cereals, rice, pasta and crackers. Look for ‘whole’ something as the first ingredient, like whole wheat flour. You may see “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “cracked wheat,” or “seven-grain” on the package, but those usually do not mean whole grain. Color is also no indication of a product being whole grain – so that dark bread may not be as healthy as you think.


  • Start your day with high-fiber foods. Oatmeal, whole-bran muffins, or whole wheat muffins, bagels or English muffins are good sources of fiber. Choose whole grain cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.


  • Make at least half your grains whole grains. Choose brown rice instead of white; whole wheat bread instead of wheat; quinoa or bulgur instead of regular couscous.


  • Include whole grain, fiber-rich snacks: popcorn, corn tortilla chips and salsa, whole wheat pita bread with hummus, for example.


  • Include fruits and vegetables with each meal and snack. Look for opportunities to add more of these to other foods you eat: add berries to your cereal, toss beans onto your salad, shred zucchini into your muffins.


  • Get your fiber from foods, not supplements. Fiber-rich foods tend to be packed with many other good-for-you nutrients, and it’s likely that all of those nutrients working together provides the most benefit. You just can’t duplicate that synergy in a supplement!

For some healthy and delicious recipes, many of which are high in fiber, click here.

What about you? Do you currently eat much fiber? Are you trying to eat more? If so, how are you going about it?


Doyle is director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society.

2 thoughts on “Jump on the ‘bran wagon’ for better health

  1. You should only have whole grains if they are not genetically modified. GMO's cause cancer of the prostate and breast. Only organic grains (non-gmo) should be in your diet.

    1. There is no GMO wheat or bran that is commercially available and GMO’s absolutely do not cause cancer of the prostate or breast. Even legitimate concerns about GMO’s don’t suggest breast cancer or prostate cancer to be manifestations of transgenic crops.

      The National Organic Program explicitly states that they are a marketing program housed under the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and that they do not account for food safety or differences in nutrition. Other studies have repeatedly shown that the “product versus process” argument still stands up in favor of GMO’s as nutritional values are virtually the same and by simple reasoning which points out that you can grow highly toxic things organically as well as conventionally.

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