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Diet and Heart Disease



Fiber Fact Sheet
Increasing your dietary fiber intake has become synonymous these days with good health.  This new image of grandma's old demand for eating your roughage remains a cornerstone of good nutrition.  A diet high in fiber has been associated with prevention of most major diseases, including gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, obesity and heart disease.  While the concept hasn't changed, the possibilities of making a diet high in fiber exciting and delicious, have. High fiber should be synonymous not only with good health, but also with good taste.

What is dietary fiber?
Mention fiber and most of us think of breakfast cereals.  A multitude of new high fiber cereals have been surfacing on our grocery shelves.  Americans seem to depend on their daily bowl of breakfast bran to triumphantly assure themselves that they've eaten a day's worth of the good stuff.  Not so!  While bran cereals do provide a significant amount of fiber, they fall far short of providing the daily need in both variety and amount of fiber.

By definition, fiber is the part of the plant that our bodies cannot absorb or digest.  There are two basic classifications of fiber:  the water-soluble types and the insoluble varieties.  Both are significant in a variety of ways. There is no magic fiber.  All types are good.  Many foods such as vegetables are a combination of two types of fiber.

Water-soluble fiber:  The forerunner against heart disease
This group commonly includes pectin and gums.  Pectins are typically found in fruits like apples and oranges.  These fibers help other nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream.  Gums are found in fruits, vegetables and oats.  These affect the absorption of cholesterol and glucose in the blood.

Insoluble fibers
These include cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.  Both cellulose and hemicellulose are important to human digestion.  These fibers are found in whole grains and vegetables.  They add bulk along the digestive tract and move waste out of the body more effectively.

How will a high fiber diet help prevent heart disease?
While all fibers are beneficial, those linked with heart disease are primarily water-soluble fibers.  Major studies conducted throughout the U.S. have demonstrated water-soluble fiber's effect on lowering cholesterol.  Foods rich in these gummy fibers include oat bran, legumes (dried beans), barley, psyllium, guar gum and pectin from many fruits.

How much fiber is enough?
The typical American diet contains about 10-15 grams of dietary fiber or about one-half the recommended level of 25-35 grams.

What foods are high in fiber?
Fiber comes most generally from plant foods. Although meat may be fibrous, it is not a significant source of dietary fiber.  Neither are dairy products.

High fiber foods are not always course in texture. For example, celery is often thought of as being high in fiber, when in fact, peas and beans have four times the amount of dietary fiber.  Generally, the less highly processed the grain, fruit or vegetables, the more fiber they contain.

What steps can I take to increase my fiber intake?
When was the last time you made a drastic change in your daily routine or habits?  Did it work?  Probably not!  Any major or drastic changes in our lifestyles are generally not recommended and are met with resistance, side effects and other difficulties.

Drastically changing from a low fiber diet to a high fiber diet may result in problems such as diarrhea or bloating.  Your approach should be one of gradually introducing or substituting high fiber foods for low fiber, fatty foods.

Here are some ways to increase the fiber in your diet:

  • Choose a side salad instead of fries with your luncheon sandwich
  • Consider alternatives for routine meals eaten out.  Frequent those restaurants with healthier choices such as vegetable side dishes, whole grain breads, fruits and salads.  Fast food should not be synonymous with high fat and low fiber.
  • Experiment with different meal combinations.  Try recipes which complement small servings of meat with vegetables and fruit.
  • Keep a jar of oat bran handy.  Sprinkle it over salad, soup, breakfast cereals and yogurt.  Add oat bran to meats, salads an soups.  Combine oat bran with cinnamon and sprinkle it over toast.
  • Eat the peel.  It's easier than struggling to peel it or eating around it.
  • Include a fresh fruit in your diet every day.

Can I get too much fiber?
Probably not.  Extremely high fiber diets have been associated with specific mineral deficiencies.  Most notably, zinc and calcium requirements may be slightly higher on a high fiber diet.  These deficiencies, however, are uncommon to most of our diets.  We seem to have a remarkable ability to adapt to a high fiber diet.

Take the fiber challenge
Choose from your favorite foods to provide at least 25 grams of dietary fiber.  Look at these high fiber sources below:  (values shown per 100 grams)

High Fiber Foods
(per 100 grams)

Total Fiber
(grams)

Water-Soluble Fiber
(grams)

Oat Bran

27.8

14.0

Rolled Oats

13.9

7.7

Cornflakes

12.0

7.2

Grapenuts

13.0

5.6

Pinto, Kidney & Lima Beans

8.7 - 10.1

5.6

Corn

3.3

1.8

Apple

2.0

0.9

Orange

2.0

0.6

Banana

1.8

0.8

 

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