Fiber for Heart Health

New research offers yet another reason for Americans to take advice about high-fiber foods to heart.

A study published Thursday in BMJ shows that people who indulge in foods rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber enjoy reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. Just seven extra grams of fiber per day significantly lowered the risk of both conditions.

The heart-healthy benefits of whole grain fibers like oatmeal have been touted for decades. But news that other forms of fiber also offer protection means people have more choices when creating a healthy meal. 

Diane Threapleton, a researcher at the University of Leeds in the U.K., examined more than 20 studies conducted over the course of more than two decades. Information was culled from six databases and included subjects in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Japan.

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Every Fiber Has Its Focus

Threapleton found that different types of fiber help the heart in different ways. Soluble fiber had more impact on lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease; cereal fibers were better at staving off coronary heart disease. 

Insoluble fiber tends to be found in bulky foods that cause us to feel full. This makes us eat less, which can be beneficial for someone trying to lose weight. 

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Soluble fibers tend to undergo partial fermentation and digestion in the colon by bacteria, Threapleton told Healthline. This leads to a cholesterol-lowering chain reaction. “These fats inhibit the natural cholesterol synthesis in the liver to help lower blood cholesterol levels," she said.

Heart disease is still the number one killer in the U.S., according to newly released statistics from the American Heart Association. One in six people in the U.S die from heart disease—or one person every 90 seconds.

Not Unpleasant Medicine

Getting seven grams of fiber per day is as simple as eating two to four servings of fruits or vegetables. One serving of oatmeal for breakfast and a small portion of beans with lunch or dinner will also satisfy the requirement.

“The main issues for non-consumers of whole grains seems to be the perception of worse taste profile, lack of knowledge about different types of whole grains, and basic lack of understanding about how to cook these foods,” Threapleton said. “For example, oatmeal is a simple to prepare and nutritious breakfast. People can choose to buy wholegrain pasta and bread in place of refined types and will likely become accustomed to the different taste.”

Delicious Fiber Choices

Lise Gloede, a Washington, D.C. dietitian and certified diabetes educator, said fiber fills you up, lowers cholesterol, and even helps control blood sugars. “Sounds like a good deal to me,” she told Healthline. “Pass the plant foods, please!”

Gloede recommends a breakfast of oatmeal with berries or bran flakes with bananas. Roasted vegetables, such as cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, have also become popular fiber choices. Popcorn with little or no butter is always a healthy, fiber-wise choice over potato chips, she added. Try adding beans to a salad, or having lentil or bean soup now and then.

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“Wholesale changes to diet are often not necessary, and just substituting refined carbohydrates for the higher-fiber, less-refined versions as well as aiming for increased fruit and vegetable intakes will take the average patient a long way toward achieving the fiber goals,” Threapleton said. 

Elisabetta Politi, a dietitian at Duke University, told Healthline this research shows the importance of getting fiber from a variety of whole foods. “We are not going to go wrong if we eat food in its natural form that is not processed or refined,” she said.