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.
Why the difference between soluble fiber and insoluble fiber matters
There are two types of fiber in plants, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is your golden ticket to reducing LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.
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.
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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 are your favorite high-fiber foods?
Caroline is a Clinical Registered Dietitian for MedStar Health and Hospital Systems in Baltimore, Maryland. She completed her Masters Degree in Dietetics from San Jose State University and moved back to Charm City to be with her fiancee. When she’s not providing medical nutrition therapy to her patients, Caroline enjoys cooking, waterfront walks and crab-anything (crab pizza is the best!).