Another Reason to Add More Fruit and Fibre to Your Diet

healthy fruitVegetarians are a third less likely to get a common bowel disorder (diverticular disease) than their meat-eating counterparts, according to a new study.

Diverticular disease has been termed a "disease of western civilisation" because of the higher numbers of cases in Europe and the US compared with parts of Africa.

The condition affects the large bowel or colon and is thought to be caused by not consuming enough fibre. Typical symptoms include painful abdominal cramps, bloating, wind, constipation and diarrhoea.

Previous research suggested that a low-fibre diet could lead to diverticular disease, and that vegetarians may have a lower risk compared with meat eaters, but there was little evidence to substantiate this.

So Dr Francesca Crowe and her team from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford set out to examine the link between a vegetarian diet and intake of dietary fibre with the risk of diverticular disease.

Their findings are based on 47,033 generally health-conscious British adults who were taking part in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Oxford study. Of those recruited, 15,459 were vegetarians.

After an average follow-up time of 11.6 years, there were 812 cases of diverticular disease (806 admissions to hospital and six deaths). After adjusting for factors such as smoking, alcohol and body mass index, vegetarians had a lower risk of the illness compared with meat eaters.

Furthermore, participants with a relatively high intake of dietary fibre (around 25g a day) had a lower risk of being admitted to hospital with or dying from diverticular disease compared with those who consumed less than 14g of fibre a day.

According to UK figures for the period 200-2001, 72pc of men and 87pc of women were not meeting the recommended average intake for dietary fibre of 18g a day and so the proportion of cases of diverticular diseases in the general population attributed to a low-fibre diet could be considerable.

These findings lend support to public health recommendations that encourage the consumption of foods high in fibre such as wholemeal breads, wholegrain cereals, fruits and vegetables.

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