Fight Heart Disease with Fiber
According to the American Heart Association, a healthy diet is one of the best weapons in the fight against heart disease. A diet that consists of nutrient-rich foods – those high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, but lower in calories – can help you not only manage your weight but can affect controllable risk factors of heart disease including cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and being overweight.
Dietary fiber is comprised of several materials that make up the parts of plants your body can't digest. Fiber is classified as soluble or insoluble.
Soluble fiber, when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, has been associated with increased diet quality and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Soluble fibers modestly reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol beyond levels achieved by a diet low in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol alone.
Foods high in soluble fiber include:
- Oat bran
- Rice bran
- Citrus fruits
- Apple pulp
Insoluble fiber has been associated with decreased cardiovascular risk and slower progression of cardiovascular disease in high-risk individuals.
Foods high in insoluble fiber include:
- Whole-wheat breads
- Wheat cereals
- Wheat bran
- Barley and most other grains
- Brussels sprouts
- Apple skin
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes that have naturally occurring fiber are your best choices. It’s important to note that many refined or enriched and highly processed grains and fruit juices are stripped of their naturally occurring fibers as well as many other nutrients.
Though many products including cookies, crackers and sugary cereals now contain added fiber, in most cases, this fiber does not have the same health benefits as naturally occurring fiber. Foods that are naturally high in fiber digest slowly and help make you feel fuller. The feeling of fullness may also help with weight management. You should strive to consume 20 – 35 grams of fiber daily – most Americans get less than half the recommended amount.
Here are some simple tips for increasing your fiber intake:
- Eat 3-5 vegetable servings (up to 2½ cups of vegetables each day)
- Eat 2-4 fruit servings each day (up to 2 cups of fruit each day)
- Chose high-quality, whole grains including products made from oat, barley, wheat, bran, rye, quinoa, wild or brown rice, millet or amaranth
- Look for breads and cereals with 3 grams of fiber or more per serving
- Eat more meals with navy, kidney, pinto, or garbanzo beans, and lentils
Tara La Rowe, UW Health clinical nutritionist offers the following tips for increasing fiber when baking or preparing your own meals:
- Add flaxseed or chia seed to muffins, breads or oatmeal
- Use whole grain flours such as oat, whole wheat or oat bran for baking; or switch up grains used in side dishes; for example, instead of rice try bulgar or barley
- Include vegetables that are good sources of soluble fiber such as brussel sprouts, acorn squash, lima beans, broccoli, okra, and eggplant
- Add more vegetables to sandwiches, sauces, or soups
- Try something new! Tara suggests these recipes for Carrot 'N' Oat Muffins, Italian Chili, or a healthy snack-mix Tasty Trail Mix.
If you need to add more fiber to your diet, do it gradually, over several weeks and be sure to drink eight to ten (8 ounce) glasses of fluid every day. Without enough fluid, high fiber consumption can be constipating, since fiber absorbs large amounts of water. A gradual increase in fiber will also help you avoid problems with bloating, gas or diarrhea. View a complete listing of serving recommendations for fruits and vegetables.
Sources: uwhealth.org, American Heart Association (www.heart.org)