Expert Q&A: Heart-Healthy Eating
An interview with Dean Ornish, MD.
Why is fiber an essential component of a heart-healthy diet? continued...
The difference between refined carbs and complex carbs is that the complex,
fiber-containing carbs aren't just not bad for you -- they are truly good for
you. When you go from white to brown rice or from white flour to whole-wheat
flour, you are going from bad carbs to good carbs.
That does two good things from a weight standpoint. You fill up before you
get too many calories. And you slow the absorption of foods into your
If you eat high-fiber carbs, your blood sugar level goes up a little and
stays there -- so you're getting a good source of energy. But bad carbs get
absorbed very quickly. Your blood sugar is going to zoom way up. Your pancreas
pumps out insulin to bring it back down, and the insulin accelerates the
conversion of sugar into fat.
This causes all these swings in energy. Your blood sugar doesn't just go
back to where it started before it got too high -- it goes way down. That
increases your carb craving, and you're stuck in a vicious cycle.
It is not necessary to avoid bad carbs altogether, but to limit them and use
them in combination with other foods. If you're going to have dessert, have it
after a high-fiber meal. Don't have it on an empty stomach.
How much can soluble fiber lower cholesterol levels? How much soluble fiber do you need to eat to get this benefit?
It depends on the individual. There is variability, and this is partly
genetically determined. The best thing is to find out what works for you.
The issue is, lowering cholesterol is not just one thing. So often people
are looking for a magic bullet: Oat bran is going to cure it, or Lipitor is
going to cure it, or whatever. What you want to do is combine a number of
different things that make a difference.
If you are eating mostly foods that are plant-based, they tend to be rich in
fiber anyway. It's just that it all comes organically and naturally instead of
having to add a spoonful of fiber to your food.