Celebrate American Heart Month by embracing more fiber in your diet.
According to the National Institutes of Health, most people consume less than half of the recommended amounts of fiber, despite the health benefits that come with it. Those who have diets rich in fiber are more likely to manage their weight, and have better control of their cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Over a lifetime, this may result in significant benefits to your heart, along with a decreased risk of diabetes and some cancers.
The heart of the matter
It couldn’t be easier to tell which foods provide fiber. It comes from plants. You won’t find any fiber in animal products such as meat, eggs or dairy (not that those foods don’t have any benefits). If you’re seeking out minimally processed plant foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans, you can be confident that you are getting a good amount of fiber. But not all fibers are created equal. There are actually two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Most whole plant foods contain a mix of both, but some foods contain more of one than the other. Both have their benefits:
- Soluble fiber is the type most beneficial to your heart. This type of fiber dissolves, becomes a gel and absorbs water and cholesterol in the stomach, slowing down digestion and decreasing fat absorption. This action supports your heart health by lowering cholesterol levels, increasing feelings of fullness and regulating blood sugar.
- Insoluble fiber is the type of fiber that does not dissolve in water, but acts more like a cleaner, sweeping waste out of your body. This action helps to keep you regular, preventing constipation, and long term, may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Get your fill of fiber
The Institute of Medicine recommends men and women, aged 50 or younger, consume at least 38 grams and 25 grams of fiber a day, respectively. If you’re over the age of 50, recommendations for men change to 30 grams and for women to 21 grams a day. Foods that are most rich in soluble fiber include acorn squash, navy beans, bran cereal, avocados and chia seeds (among many others). Foods that are most rich in insoluble fiber include cauliflower, split peas, wheat bran, raspberries and pine nuts. For more information on high fiber foods and diet plans, check out webmd.com and mayoclinic.org (search word: fiber).