A diet rich in fiber may not only protect against diabetes and heart disease, it may reduce the risk of developing lung disease, according to new research published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Researchers analyzed records of 1,921 adults (ages 40 to 79) from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) and found that among adults in the top quartile of fiber intake:

  • 68.3% had normal lung function (compared to 50.1% in the bottom quartile)
  • 14.8% had airway restriction (compared to 29.8% in the bottom quartile)

According to the study, patients with the highest fiber intake also performed significantly better than those with the lowest intake in FVC and FEV1 lung tests.

An ATS press release explained that fiber consumption was calculated based on the amount of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains participants recalled eating. Those whose diets included more than 17.5 g of fiber a day were in the top quartile and represented the largest number of participants, 571. Those getting less than 10.75 g of fiber a day were in the lower group and represented the smallest number of participants, 360.

“Lung disease is an important public health problem, so it’s important to identify modifiable risk factors for prevention,” said lead author Corrine Hanson PhD, RD, an associate professor of medical nutrition at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “However, beyond smoking very few preventative strategies have been identified. Increasing fiber intake may be a practical and effective way for people to have an impact on their risk of lung disease.”