Here’s an easy treatment for living longer (and looking and feeling good while doing it): eat more fiber by starting meals with a leafy green salad or brothy veggie-based soup. Fiber is the nondigestible carbohydrate in plants. If you’re on the burger-and-fries diet, you’re no doubt missing out, which explains why the average American only gets 14 grams of fiber a day. If, however, you’re eating a plant-heavy diet, you’ll have no trouble getting the fiber that you need.
Why is fiber so important? Research indicates that people who eat more fiber have fewer chronic diseases, as fiber can reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. And by adding more fiber to your diet, you can lose weight without making any other changes.
Dietary guidelines recommend that women eat at least 25 grams a day if they’re under fifty, while women fifty-one and older need 21 grams. For men, recommendations are at least 38 grams if you’re younger than fifty and at least 30 grams a day if you’re fifty-one or older.
Choose fiber-rich foods over fiber supplements for the healthiest option. (Talk with your physician if you opt for supplements, as they could interfere with the absorption of some medications or may not be appropriate if you have certain medical conditions.) Also, make sure you go slowly when adding fiber to your diet. If your body isn’t used to the high fiber intake, it can cause uncomfortable side effects like bloating, cramping, and gas at first. Once your body adapts, however, these issues usually disappear.
Because of its heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, eating fish can help reduce the risk of heart failure, coronary heart disease, cardiac arrest, and ischemic stroke (the most common kind of stroke), according to the American Heart Association (AHA). In fact, studies have found that the Mediterranean diet, which not only emphasizes plant-based foods but also fish, benefits the heart. Now add in the fact that people in the Blue Zones (the five places in the world where people not only live the longest but are also the healthiest) eat fish up to three times a week. The AHA recommends eating two 3.5-ounce servings of non-fried fish or about 3/4 cup of flaked fish every week for better health.
One caveat to remember is the environmental concerns about fish. Oceans are being overfished, and lots of modern-day fish are contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals (like mercury). If you do want to eat fish (and you’re not pregnant), choose smaller, oily types, like salmon, anchovies, mackerel, herring, lake trout, and sardines. Watch out for sushi tuna, which studies show contains high amounts of mercury, and avoid farm-raised fish. Want to have your fish without actually eating it? Companies like Good Catch, Ocean Hugger Foods, and New Wave Foods have created “fish” made out of plants, including chickpeas, lentils, soy, sea algae, and tomatoes. Many of them are already available in grocery stores, so keep your eyes open.