By now we’re all aware that fiber is an important part of a healthy diet for everything from heart health to weight management. Now comes one more piece of evidence reinforcing the value of eating fiber-rich foods: Doing so may delay age-related brain inflammation, according to recent research published in the academic journal, Frontiers in Immunology.
Here’s a closer look at the findings, along with tips aimed at helping caregivers looking to incorporate more fiber into their aging loved ones’ diets.
A Brain Benefit
According to the research, chronic inflammation of microglia—the central nervous system’s primary immune cells—is a normal part of the aging process. This inflammation is linked with memory loss and cognitive decline in older people. However, researchers have now concluded that dietary fiber can reduce the inflammatory environment—not only in the gut but also in the brain—by reducing the production of interleukin-1β, a pro-inflammatory chemical which has also been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Said study co-author Jeff Woods, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, "We know that diet has a major influence on the composition and function of microbes in the gut and that diets high in fiber benefit good microbes while diets high in fat and protein can have a negative influence on microbial composition and function." Changing gut microbes—in this case, through the introduction of fiber “is one what in which [diet] affects disease,” continued Woods.
The Fiber Imperative
Advises corresponding author Rodney Johnson, a professor and the head of the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “What you eat matters. We know that older adults consume 40 percent less dietary fiber than is recommended. Not getting enough fiber could have negative consequences for things you don't even think about, such as connections to brain health and inflammation in general."
In many cases, this is easier said than done. Which begs the question: What can caregivers do to help seniors realize the health benefits of eating more fiber? These simple tips can help:
- Switch to whole grain bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals
- Top waffles, pancakes, or cereal with fruit
- Swap in whole fruits for fruit juices
- Add dried fruits and nuts to salads and snacks
- Bake with whole wheat flour instead of white flour
- Add beans and chickpeas to soups and salads
Making these changes gradually can not only be easier for seniors to adjust to, but it can also be gentler on their digestive systems. One rule of thumb to shoot for? Include a fiber source in every meal. The good news? There are many nutritious and delicious fiber-filled recipes to discover, including Kitchen Sink Veggie Pasta Salad.
If you’re still struggling to help a senior in your care get more fiber, talk to his or her doctor about supplementing with psyllium, a high-fiber compound that can be mixed into water or fruit juice.
Speaking of water or fruit juice, seniors should also amp up their intake of fluids when adding fiber to their diets in order to avoid constipation.
One last thing for caregivers to keep in mind? The benefits of eating a fiber-rich diet aren’t limited to the elderly. In addition to adding more fiber to your aging loved one’s diet, commit to adding more fiber to your own diet, too.
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