By Joy Saudargas, RD, LDN, Clinical Nutritionist within the Crozer Keystone Health System
Yes, eating more fiber is great for digestion. But did you also know it’s a key ingredient for a healthy heart?
Dietary fiber, which is mainly found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, is best known for its ability to prevent and relieve constipation. But including foods containing fiber in your diet can offer you other health benefits, including lowering your risk of heart disease.
Many studies have shown that diets high in fiber are associated with lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar levels in diabetics, lower blood pressure, a lower risk of heart disease, a lower risk of diabetes and a healthier weight.
Even though the body can’t fully digest dietary fiber, the evidence of its benefits for heart health is strong. That’s right, fiber is indigestible. That means it can’t be absorbed through the intestines and instead it just passes through.
So how does that benefit your heart?
Two Kinds of Fiber
Soluble fiber has been linked with a better quality diet that is low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol – all of which contribute to an increased risk of heart disease. If you consume a diet low in these three heart-harmful items you can lower your risk of heart disease, and if you include soluble fiber, you can decrease that risk ever further.
And then there’s insoluble fiber. This type of fiber has also been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, as well as a slower progression of heart disease in those considered “high risk.” This type of fiber has the ability to make you feel full, which could lead you to eat fewer calories.
Incorporate more soluble fiber into your diet by eating more oat bran, oatmeal, beans, peas, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, strawberries and apple pulp. Good sources of insoluble fiber include whole wheat breads, wheat cereals, wheat bran, rye, rice, barley, cabbage, beets, carrots, Brussel sprouts, turnips, cauliflower and apple skin.
A high-fiber diet is often the key to many weight loss plans. That’s because foods that are high in fiber tend to be low in calories, they take longer to eat and they make you feel full sooner and for longer. And, if you’re eating more fiber, you’re likely eating less food that causes weight gain. Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial to keeping your heart healthy.
Not sure how much fiber you should be getting each day? Women are recommended to get a totally of 25 grams, soluble and insoluble combined. Men should aim for 38 grams of total fiber.
If you’re not quite hitting those target numbers, increasing your fruits and vegetables is one of the simplest ways to increase your fiber intake. Try to eat at least two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables every day.
You can also eat more whole grains, with emphasis on whole. The fiber you need is in a grain located in the bran, the outer shell, and the germ, the part of the seed that would grow in the ground. When you eat whole grain products, like oatmeal or rice, you’re going to get the whole grain, including the germ and bran.