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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Diverticular Disease and Diet

More good news for vegetarians: a high fiber diet and heart health.

There is no doubt that a high fiber diet helps to keep our hearts healthy and our cholesterol levels down.  Soluble fiber, which comes from apples, oat bran, prunes, and legumes (among others) is especially good for lowering cholesterol. A high fiber diet is also associated with lower levels of blood inflammation and a reduced risk for diabetes. Thanks to the sense of fullness that fiber gives us, we are less apt to gain weight when we include more fiber in our meals.

Most vegetarians get plenty of fiber, which is probably one of the reasons that a vegetarian diet is associated with a 20 to 30 percent lower likelihood of death from cardiovascular causes. A recent National Institutes of Health study reported that those who eat just four ounces of beef or pork every day had a 30 percent higher mortality rate than those who avoided these foods, with heart disease and cancer leading the list.

Not only is fiber good for our heart, it’s great for our digestive health. Diverticulosis happens when diverticula, little outpouchings or inside-out pockets, develop in the wall of the colon. They can easily become inflamed and infected if food particles or harmful bacteria get trapped within them; this is known as diverticulitis. About 10 percent of Americans over the age of 40 have diverticulosis, and the problem increases with age.  It is thought that a low fiber diet, constipation, and lack of exercise put people at risk for diverticulosis.

A study from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit of the University of Oxford evaluated the effects of a vegetarian diet and fiber on diverticular disease. In the Oxford study, more than 47,000 people were studied over the course of 11 years.  Not surprisingly, the vegetarians came out ahead, with a 31 percent lower risk of diverticular disease.

Of course, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to get plenty of fiber, and some vegetarians may not get all the fiber they need. Vegetarian or not,  those whose diets included at least 25.5 grams of fiber every day had a risk of diverticular disease that was 41 percent lower than those who included less than 14 grams daily.

A healthier heart, a happier colon, and a slimmer middle can be yours if you choose six to eight servings of fruits and veggies every day. For a list of foods high in fiber, check out the Colorado State University Extension website.

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Tags: Diet and Heart Health , Weight and Heart Health

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.