Fiber and heart health go hand in hand. Increasing your fiber intake is a key element to following a heart-healthy diet. Fiber is the structural part of plants that is not digested or absorbed.
Soluble Fiber vs Insoluble Fiber
According to health specialist Lisa Hawthorne, there are two types of fiber in plants, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber (found in fruits, vegetables, oat bran, barley, seed husks, flaxseed, psyllium, dried beans, lentils, peas, soy milk and soy products) helps to slow the emptying process in the stomach, providing an increased level of satiety. It also helps to lower cholesterol (LDL) and stabilise the blood glucose levels.
LDL transports the fat we eat through the bloodstream to our organs, it has a bad rep because high LDL levels mean you are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Soluble fiber reroutes dietary cholesterol: instead of going to your tissues, cholesterol binds to soluble fiber and gets transported to the colon for excretion. Less cholesterol in the body = less LDL production.
Insoluble fibre (found in wheat bran, corn bran, rice bran, the skins of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried beans and wholegrain foods) absorbs water to help to soften the contents of the bowels and supports regular bowel movements.
Increasing soluble fiber for heart health
By adding only 10-15 grams of soluble fiber to your diet per day, you can decrease your LDL levels by 5-11 points or even more!
So how do you increase your fiber intake? To reap all of the benefits of fiber (hello, regularity and satiety!), let’s start with some basic principles:
- Aim for 25 grams of fiber (soluble and/or insoluble) per day and 10-15 grams soluble fiber per day
- Water and fiber are best friends! Gradually increase your fiber intake and your water intake together avoid constipation. Pair any items from the list below with 6-8 ounces of water. If you are used to eating more fibrous foods (yay, you!) you may have an easier time adding more fiber to your diet.
- Go slow. Add more fiber slowly into your diet by choosing 1-2 items from the list below to your daily routine…adding too much fiber too fast can also cause bloating, gas, or constipation.
- Be consistent. Reap the benefits of soluble fiber by eating around 10-15 grams per day, every day.
- Track your intake. Take guessing out of the equation, try an app like MyFitnessPal where you can see how many grams of fiber you are eating per day.
- Choose whole grains when possible. Whole grains are less processed and contain the outer hull of the grain, bringing a higher fiber punch than refined, “white” grains.
- Choose whole fruits and vegetables over juices. While fresh juices can be a part of a heart-healthy diet, the fiber is removed during processing. Keep your fruits and veggies whole to maximize your fiber intake.
- Try a fiber supplement. Brands like Metamucil and Benefiber contain psyllium husk with as much as 7 grams of soluble fiber in each serving! These are great options when on the go, but try to get most of your fiber from whole foods. These supplements mix right into any beverage of your choice.
- Listen to your body. If you experience any abdominal discomfort, you may need to back off high-fiber foods, drink more water, or reach for some Pepto or Gas-X! No same foods work for everyone, so take cues from your body to guide you.
What the experts say
Andrew Taylor, Food Addiction Coach & Owner of Spudfit.com
The best dietary predictor of long term health is the amount of fibre we consume daily. It’s super important for gut health and has been shown to have a significant impact on digestion, inflammation and even depression. People who eat high fibre diets tend to be much leaner and healthier by all measures.
Plant foods are the only natural sources of fibre, try increasing your intake of whole grains, beans and veggies. Try some porridge with steel cut oats for breakfast, a brown rice and bean burrito for lunch or a baked potato topped with bean chilli for dinner.
Sarah Spann, gut health specialist
Fibre improves digestive health by maintaining bowel motility and regulating transit time to keep you regular. It adds bulk to stool and binds to cholesterol, carrying it out of the body. Fibre also assists you to maintain a healthy weight by helping you to feel more full for longer and balancing blood sugar, preventing sugar cravings. If you don’t eat enough fibre, you’re at high risk for weight gain, constipation, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.
The best way to eat more fibre to to eat a variety of fruit, vegetables and whole grains to make sure that you are consuming all diff erent types of fibre. Be sure to eat the skins of fruits and vegetables where possible, and choose whole grains such as brown rice over white. Nuts and seeds like almonds, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds are also great sources of fibre.
Niki Clark, Flannery’s Organic and Wholefood
Prebiotics are a type of low digestible fibre found in specific foods, such as artichoke, onion and garlic. It plays an important part in our diet because it feeds probiotics, the good bacteria, in our gut. Feeding the good bacteria may help them thrive and produce favourable effects on the immune system, skin health and digestion, such as reduced bloating.
Fortunately, some researchers think the ‘bad’ bacteria can’t feed on prebiotics, leaving i t wide open for the good bacteria. With this in mind, prebiotics may be just as important in our daily diet to help enhance probiotics. You can find prebiotics and probiotics combined in formulas such as Amazonia’s certified organic and vegan Raw Pre-probiotic.
Our Favorite Fiber Sups
This is packed with one of our favorite source of dietary fiber, psyllium husks, and is formulated with a combination of fennel seed powder to reduce bloat and probiotics and antioxidant compounds to support natural detoxification.
Natural laxative properties from the fibers in BALANCE Daily, including psyllium husks and oat bran, help keep you full and the bowels moving to cleanse the system. Great addition for weight management.