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Fiber for Heart Health: Types of Fiber

Fiber can be labeled in different ways. One distinction is between soluble and insoluble fiber. Both have health benefits.

  • Soluble fiber is in foods like oatmeal and oat bran, nuts, apples, strawberries, beans, and barley. This is the fiber that turns into a gel in the intestines and slows down digestion. It's soluble fiber, in particular, that seems to lower cholesterol.
  • Insoluble fiber doesn't really break down at all. It's in whole grains, wheat cereals, and vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, and celery.

Which type of fiber should you eat more of? Both. Although soluble fiber might have the clear connection to cholesterol, insoluble fiber and total fiber (soluble and insoluble fiber combined) are linked with lower rates of heart disease. Many fruits and vegetables -- such as apples, beets, pears, and carrots -- contain good amounts of both types of fiber.

Fiber for Heart Health: Getting More Fiber in Your Diet

If you're concerned about reaping the benefits of fiber for heart health, how can you get more fiber in your diet? Here are some tips.

  • Get the recommended amount. According to the Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes, the recommended daily allowance of total fiber -- soluble and insoluble combined -- is 25 grams for women (21 grams for women age 50 and older). For men, it's 38 grams (30 for men 50 and older). You don't need to count your intake every day. Just keep track for a few days to get a sense of what you normally take in. Then try to step it up. Add more fiber gradually to prevent gas and bloating.
  • Increase your fruits and vegetables. This is one of the simplest ways to increase fiber in your diet. Eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables each day.
  • Eat more whole grains. The fiber in a grain is located in the bran (which is the outer shell) and the germ (which is the part of the seed that would grow into grass.) When you eat whole-grain oatmeal or whole-grain rice, you're getting the whole grain -- germ and bran included.

When it comes to fiber for heath health, whole grains might be the most important. A major study found that people who ate a diet high in fiber, especially cereal fiber, had a 40% lower risk of coronary artery disease than people who ate a low-fiber diet.

  • Eat less refined grains. When grain is refined, the bran and the germ are removed. As a result, anything made with refined grain is missing the fiber and many of the health benefits.
  • Consider a fiber supplement. Experts generally say that when it comes to fiber for heart health, getting it from foods is preferable. Still, adding a fiber supplement might have benefits, Miller says. Check with a doctor first about what type you should try.

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