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Food for the Heart

The reward for such efforts is a shield against heart disease, showed research published in the September 1999 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Studying the same group of women in the Harvard study, the researchers found that women who managed to eat at least 25 grams of fiber a day were 40% less likely to suffer a heart attack than were women who ate less than 9 grams.

Men get the same protection. In the Harvard Male Health Professionals study, researchers found that men who ate a high-fiber diet could cut their risk of suffering a heart attack by almost half, according to results published in the February 14, 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

How fiber works its magic still isn't clear, but scientists suspect that it coaxes the body to take more cholesterol out of the blood, preventing it from forming plaques in the arteries and causing heart disease.

Fiber also blocks the body from absorbing fat and cholesterol from food. In the April 1997 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, researchers reported that the more fiber volunteers ate, the more fat ended up in their stools.

Flushing Out the Pounds

Not only does fiber prevent absorption of fat, but it also helps you to feel satiated faster. As you fill up on high-fiber foods like grains, fruits, and vegetables, you'll have less room for high-fat and highly caloric low-fiber foods.

And fewer calories mean that eating fiber helps to maintain a healthy weight. Some researchers have calculated that if Americans doubled their intake of fiber, they could cut 100 calories from their diet a day, which could shave off 10 pounds of yearly weight gain.

Protection From Diabetes

There's good reason to think that fiber can protect against diabetes, too, based on results published in the February 12, 1997 Journal of the American Medical Association. In a study of more than 65,000 middle-aged women, scientists reported that women who consumed the most fiber were significantly less likely to develop diabetes than those who ate the least.

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