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New research confirms that increasing fiber intake can significantly improve the cardiovascular health of people with high blood pressure and diabetes. Getty Images
  • New research finds a diet high in fiber, like shredded wheat, can help combat effects of type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
  • Those on a high-fiber diet had lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower blood sugar.
  • Only 25 percent of adults get the recommended amount of fiber daily.

Fighting back against rising rates of type 2 diabetes and hypertension has been a losing battle for the medical community in the United States.

Now, new research finds that adding fiber to your diet may help stave off these serious health conditions.

Roughly 1 in 3 U.S. adults lives with high blood pressure and about 100 million have diabetes or prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Both conditions carry a strong risk of cardiovascular disease.

New research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology (ACC) Middle East Conference 2019 this week found that patients with hypertension and type 2 diabetes who consume a high-fiber diet were able to significantly cut their risk of these health conditions.

Researchers tracked the fiber consumption of 200 participants, average age of 50, with diabetes and hypertension. They were given ‘diet prescriptions’ that included a detailed list of different foods and portion sizes. Health checks were performed at the beginning, then at 3 and 6 months into the study.

“I’ve done a lot of work in obesity and atherosclerosis in type 2 diabetes and hypertension cases, so this time I wanted to see how dietary modifications, especially a high-fiber diet in this population, can help my patients improve their various cardiovascular risk factors,” lead study author Dr. Rohit Kapoor, medical director of Care Well Heart and Super Specialty Hospital, told Healthline.

The participants consumed 1,200 to 1,500 calories and the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for fiber in this group was about 30 grams. Their fiber intake was increased up to 25 percent, to about 38 grams, for this study. (This equates to about 1.5 cups of high-fiber cereal.)

Over 6 months, the high-fiber diet improved several cardiovascular risk factors:

  • 9 percent reduction in serum cholesterol
  • 23 percent reduction in triglycerides
  • 15 percent reduction of systolic blood pressure
  • 28 percent reduction of fasting blood sugar

“The results were amazing! These findings underscore the importance of dietary counseling, as well as the role of dietitians and diabetes educators,” said Kapoor.

Fiber intake was tracked several ways, including by sending photos of meals using WhatsApp. This helped verify fiber intake and portion sizes. Participants were also called three times a week to record a detailed dietary recall.

According to Dr. William Li, author of “Eat To Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself,” fiber from food has been part of a heart healthy diet since the 1970s.

He said foods high in fiber have long been associated with lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, improving blood sugar metabolism, and even helping with weight loss.

“It was originally thought that fiber latches onto the bad cholesterol in the intestines before it can be absorbed in the blood, and that fiber stimulates the gut to keep moving, helping us poop out harmful fats and even sugars,” said Li. “But researchers have discovered that fiber may actually work by feeding our healthy gut bacteria, the microbiome.”

Li explained that bacteria digest the fiber into useful fragments called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

These benefit health by improving lipid metabolism, lowering cholesterol, helping control blood sugar, and reducing inflammation.

“The connection of dietary fiber as ‘prebiotic’ to gut health and metabolic changes that protect the heart is changing the way we understand how fiber protects against heart disease,” said Li.

“Fiber is the part of plant foods that is non-digestible and there are two types: soluble and insoluble,” said Shelley Wood, MPH, RDN, clinical dietitian at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

Wood explained that both types of fiber are helpful for weight management and eating a high-fiber diet can reduce the risk for some cancers, such as colorectal cancer.

“Soluble fiber is helpful in lowering unhealthy LDL cholesterol. It also helps slow down digestion and can assist with controlling blood glucose in diabetics. You can find soluble fiber in foods such as beans, oats, and peas,” said Wood.

However, insoluble fiber can prevent constipation and helps remove waste from the body. It speeds up the transit of food through your system and promotes regularity. Wood said you can find insoluble fiber in “foods such as wheat bran, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits eaten with their skin.”

“Studies have shown that diets higher in fiber often result in a healthier weight, which by itself is helpful in preventing many chronic diseases,” said Wood. “Fiber is also essential for good digestive health because it acts as a laxative and fermentative agent as well as providing necessary food for our gut microbiota.”

“The easiest way you’re going to get foods with the most fiber is by sticking to fruits and vegetables. Fruit and vegetable skin in particular has the majority of the fiber present in them — so if you’re eating an apple, instead of peeling it, leave the skin on,” Tasha Temple, MS, CDE, registered dietitian with Gwinnett Medical Center in Atlanta, told Healthline.

When it comes to fiber, more isn’t necessarily better. Temple cautioned that eating too much, especially if you’re not drinking water, can cause discomfort and constipation.

She added that we should shoot for 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day, however, “anything over that and you need to make sure you’re drinking enough water to make sure that fiber is activated and able to move through the digestive system.”

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, foods with the highest fiber content include:

  • high-fiber bran ready-to-eat cereal: 14 grams in ¾ cup
  • cooked yellow, navy, or small white beans: almost 10 grams in 1/2 cup
  • shredded wheat: 5 grams in 1 cup

New research confirms that increasing fiber intake can significantly improve the cardiovascular health of people with high blood pressure and diabetes.

Eating just 25 percent more than the RDA of fiber was all that was needed to see the benefits for this population.

Experts say eating fiber can benefit everyone’s health, and the best sources are fruits and vegetables.