You likely know fiber for its ability to keep you regular, but there’s so much more to fiber than the laxative ads lead on. Fiber is a powerhouse nutrient that can do everything from staving off diabetes to lowering your risk for cancer — it can even protect your heart.
Dr. Fahmi Farah, our heart specialist at Bentley Heart, helps patients throughout the greater Fort Worth, Texas, area, taking the necessary steps to protect their hearts from problems in the future — not the least of which is adjusting their diets.
Fiber as a heart-healthy food choice is hardly a new idea. Supporting research dates back to the 1970s, and the evidence has only grown. In fact, back in 2002, the Institute of Medicine firmly recommended that men and women consume 38 and 25 grams of fiber respectively every day.
Unfortunately, most adults only get around 16 grams every day. The same study that discovered the lack of fiber in the average American's diet also found that low-fiber diets correlated with heart disease.
Those who have high-fiber diets are less likely to have problems like metabolic syndrome, which often precedes diabetes. And diabetes is often accompanied by excess belly fat, high triglycerides, low beneficial HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar — all of which increase your chances of developing heart disease.
But how does fiber combat the conditions that can plague your heart? It works to lower your total cholesterol by reducing the amount of “bad” cholesterol present. It also may benefit your heart by keeping your blood pressure in check and reducing inflammation.
Fiber has also been dubbed roughage and bulk. It has such tough-sounding names because it’s a tough substance. Fiber is the part of plant foods that your body can’t absorb or digest the way it can fats and proteins.
Instead, fiber passes through your digestive system and out of your body relatively intact. There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water, forming a gel-like material that lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels. You can find this type of fiber in apples, beans, oats, barley, peas, citrus fruit and carrots.
Insoluble fiber is a famous constipation fighter. It helps your body move material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, and vegetables are all insoluble fiber-rich foods.
If you don’t get enough fiber every day, you’re not alone; millions of others struggle to get enough fiber, too. The other good news is that fiber is easy to find, and you can start bringing your daily intake up to par by making better food choices and eating more:
The amount of fiber varies in different foods, so to get the best benefits, make sure you’re eating a wide variety of high-fiber foods.
Remember that processed foods, including canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices, white bread, pasta, and non-whole grain cereals do not pack the fiber punch their whole-food counterparts do. The process to refine the grains removes the outer coat from the grain, which significantly lowers its fiber content.
Cereals, bread, oatmeals, and the like can claim a “good source” of fiber on their labels if they contain 10% (about 2.5 grams) of your daily dose of fiber. You’ll see “rich in,” “high in,” or “an excellent source of” in products that deliver five or more grams per serving.
Look for brands and products that have at least six grams of fiber and words like “100% whole wheat/grain” to know you’re getting the most out of each bite.
Looking for more ways to step up your fiber intake? Try these simple suggestions:
You can also talk to us about starting a fiber supplement.
Though fiber is great for your health, too much too soon can be problematic and cause gas, bloating, and cramping, so make sure you talk to Dr. Farah before you dive in head first.
If you’d like more information about dietary choices that can protect your heart, don’t hesitate to make an appointment online or over the phone today.