Increasing fiber intake lowers cholesterol, reduces risk of heart disease

Increasing fiber intake lowers cholesterol, reduces risk of heart disease

It’s February—the month when hearts are everywhere and love is the air!

February is also American Heart Month, and this article is all about loving your heart.

The leading cause of death in the United States, according to the CDC, is heart disease. When a person has high cholesterol, it puts them at twice the risk for heart disease. You may need medications to help lower your cholesterol level, but looking at the foods you eat is the best place to start.

Dietary sources that cause your LDL, or “the bad,” cholesterol to rise include saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Saturated fat is any fat that is solid at room temperature. Trans fat is unsaturated fat that has been modified to be more shelf stable and results in high levels of saturated fats. Examples include stick margarine; baked goods such as crackers, cookies and doughnuts; and fried foods like French fries and fried chicken. Cholesterol comes from animal sources including butter and milk.

But there is good news! You can make one simple dietary change that can result in lower cholesterol—increase your daily intake of soluble fiber.

Fiber is an essential nutrient that many Americans fall short of the daily recommended intake in their diets.  The general daily recommendation for women is 25 gm and men 38 gm of fiber daily; of this fiber intake, 10-25 gm should be soluble fiber.  Soluble fiber comes from plant sources and helps to improve cholesterol levels.

When looking at your current eating habits, ask yourself some simple questions:

  • Do I eat more natural, whole foods or processed foods?
  • Do I eat fresh fruits or drink fruit juices?
  • Do I look for breads labeled “whole wheat?”

Whole foods, fresh fruits, especially when eaten with the peel, and whole wheat breads are a few examples high fiber foods. Dried beans and lentils, nuts, seeds and popcorn are also high in fiber.

Avoid foods that are refined and/or processed because the more processed a food is the less fiber it will contain.

A good example of this process is an apple. A medium apple with the peel has 4.4 grams (gm) of fiber, taking the apple to ½ cup applesauce reduces the fiber to 1.4 gm, and when it becomes 4 oz. of apple juice it loses all fiber content.

Here’s how that compares to a few other high fiber foods.

  • 1 large pear with skin = 7 gm fiber
  • 1 cup raspberries = 8 gm fiber
  • ½ cup cooked black beans = 7.5 gm fiber
  • 3 cups air-popped popcorn= 3.5 gm fiber

So, remember, the more you process the whole food, the less nutrition benefit you will receive.

My last point, and this is very important, is to increase your daily fiber slowly and at the same time increase your water intake.  If you increase fiber too quickly and do not increase your water intake, the benefits of the fiber will be offset by constipation.

Now it’s up to you to show others how you love your heart all year long.

For more information on nutrition therapy to improve your health, contact the Bruce Chertow Diabetes Center at 304-691-1000.

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Heather Venoy, RD, LD, CDE

Heather Venoy is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator for Marshall Health’s Bruce Chertow Diabetes Center in Huntington, W.Va. Heather is a graduate of Marshall University and has 20 years of experience in dietetics.