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fiber_study6Remember the high school cafeteria, where lunch was a rotation of cafeteria pizza (ick) and Lunchables (double ick), served alongside the latest gossip? While we can barely remember what we ate last week—let alone a decade ago—let’s hope our brown-bagged school meals came with a side of bran, broccoli, beans, or berries.

Why? Fiber is well known as a rockstar of the food world, but a new study shows it may be a key to reducing your risk of developing breast cancer. The long-term study, published in the journal Pediatrics, concludes that eating lots of fiber-rich foods during high school may significantly reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

Women who consumed the recommended 28 grams of fiber per day had a 24 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer before menopause (compared with women who ate just 14 grams of fiber per day, on average), the study showed. For the women on the high-fiber diet, the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer was also cut by 16 percent.

“There is longstanding evidence that dietary fibers may reduce circulating estrogen levels,” says Kimberly Blackwell, a breast cancer specialist at the Duke Cancer Center, told NPR. The study authors also say high-fiber diets may reduce risk by improving insulin sensitivity, since fiber can slow down the absorption of sugars and help keep blood sugar levels more stable.

While we can’t go back in time to change our orders at the cafeteria, it’s never too late to start bulking up your fiber consumption to keep your body—especially your gut—super happy. The recommended daily dose of fiber is 28 grams for women and 35 grams for men (and FYI it’s not just in legumes and greens—just one artichoke has about one-fourth of your daily fiber needs). Your microbiome will thank you, as will your French fry and diet soda-loving high school self. —Alison Feller

Looking for somewhere to start? Pulses (AKA beans, chickpeas, and lentils) are high-fiber all-stars—and they’re hot right now, thanks in part to being selected as the UN’s choice for food of the year.

(Photo: Pavan Trikutam/Stocksnap.io)