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Heart-Health Perks continued...

Protects against strokes and diabetes. Replace refined grains with fiber-rich whole grains in your diet, and you might lower the risk of a stroke by up to 36% and the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 30%, research shows. Both conditions are tied to an increased risk of getting heart disease.

Lowers blood pressure. In another small study, researchers put 233 volunteers on a high-fiber diet that includes lots of whole wheat and whole oats. They found that after 12 weeks, participants had a drop in blood pressure and pulse pressure.

Encourages a healthy weight. Fiber can also be a weight loss weapon, because it gives you a feeling of fullness that helps stave off hunger.

All those benefits can add up to not just better heart health, but a longer life. In a 2011 study, researchers followed nearly 300,000 participants over 9 years. They found that eating lots of fiber was even linked to a lower risk of early death among men and women.

Get Your Share

Women under 50 years old should try to get about 25 grams of fiber a day, and men should shoot for 38 grams.

Most Americans struggle to get enough, though. On average we get just 15 grams a day.

“I think it’s tough. I really do,” says cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, the director of women's heart health at the Heart and Vascular Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital. “But I think it’s a crucial part of a heart-healthy diet.”

Cimperman, for one, is convinced. She often talks up the benefits of fiber when working with heart patients -- but as part of an overall healthy diet. 

“I think it’s important to keep in mind that fiber is important," she says. But “understanding the big picture helps."

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