Dietary fiber, found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, “has been shown in research to help lower cholesterol,” said Jody Gilchrist, nurse practitioner at the UAB Heart & Vascular Clinic at Acton Road.
Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate that comes from plants and is classified as soluble or insoluble. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the diet, helps prevent constipation and is the fiber most responsible for keeping your digestive tract healthy. Soluble fiber acts like a sponge, Gilchrist said. It makes you feel full quickly, which helps control how much you eat, and therefore weigh. An added benefit of soluble fiber is that research has shown it can help lower LDL or “bad cholesterol” by interfering with how the body absorbs cholesterol from foods.
Foods high in insoluble fiber include whole-wheat breads, most whole grains, cabbage, beets, carrots, brussels sprouts, turnips, cauliflower and apple (skin). Foods high in soluble fiber include oat bran, oatmeal, beans, peas, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, strawberries and apples (pulp).
“Most nutrition experts say that a person needs at least 25 grams of fiber a day as part of a balanced diet,” Gilchrist said. “The American Heart Association recommends that a good rule of thumb is 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed, and at least 10 grams should come from soluble fiber.”
Gilchrist adds that when you’re buying groceries, be sure to read nutrition fact labels carefully. Just because something has fiber in it does not necessarily mean it is good for you. There are many pre-packaged convenience items that contain oat or wheat bran – including muffins and waffles – that actually contain very little bran and can have high levels of sodium, sugar or fat.
“If you are buying something packaged and not a raw food, such as fruits or vegetables, look for the American Heart Association Whole Grain heart-check mark on labels,” Gilchrist said. “It’s a good way to make sure what you are getting is good for your heart.”
You can also add fiber supplements such as Benefiber or Metamucil to coffee, yogurt, cereal, soups or other foods. Just be careful to increase the amount of fiber intake slowly and drink plenty of water. If you have gas, try over-the-counter simethicone, increasing your water intake or more gradually increasing your fiber intake.