Fiber 101: Weight Loss, Heart Health Benefits

Fiber’s role in good digestion is common knowledge. But did you know about the link between fiber, weight loss and cardiovascular health?

Not only can fiber help with digestion, it can also help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels, medical experts say.

“You can modify your cardiovascular risk by choosing fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains,” says Lucette Talamas, a registered dietitian with Community Health at Baptist Health.

A healthy diet contains a daily serving of 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams of fiber for men. Unfortunately, the average American does not consume enough fiber, and most people only get about half of the daily recommendation.

Here are a few facts about fiber:

What is fiber?

Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that comes from plant-based foods. Unlike other starches and sugars, fiber does not raise blood sugars. (Animal-based food products — milk, eggs, meat, poultry or fish — do not contain fiber.)

Good sources of dietary fiber include beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

“In addition to the fiber, these foods have a wealth of nutrition, containing many important vitamins and minerals,” Ms. Talamas says, adding: “It is best to get your fiber from food rather than taking a supplement since the effectiveness of only few fiber supplements have been studied.”

What about whole grain cereals and breads?

Look for whole grain cereals made from whole grains, including wheat, wheat bran and oats that contain three grams of dietary fiber or more per serving. Check the ingredients list to make sure that the first ingredient includes the word “whole” before the grain listed.

What is the link between cholesterol and fiber?

Cholesterol is the soft, waxy substance found in your bloodstream and in all body cells. There are two types of cholesterol:

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) joins with fats and other substances to build up on the inner walls of your arteries. This process, known as atherosclerosis, leads to clogged and narrowed arteries that restrict blood flow, which can result in a heart attack or stroke.

High-density lipoprotein helps protect you from strokes and heart attacks by carrying harmful cholesterol away from your arteries.

Research shows that soluble fiber can modestly reduce LDL cholesterol beyond levels achieved by a diet low in saturated and trans fats alone. Sources of soluble fiber include apples, bananas, peaches, citrus fruits, strawberries, oat bran, oatmeal, beans, peas, rice bran and barley.

What about fiber and weight loss?

In a recent study, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, discovered that overweight adults who ate 30 grams of fiber daily lost almost as much weight as those who followed the American Heart Association’s (AHAs) diet guidelines, which involved 13 requirements,  including a recommendation to eat 30 grams of fiber daily. The study  tracked 240 people over a 12-month period.

The research  verdict:  “The more complex AHA diet may result in up to 1.7 kg more weight loss; however, a simplified approach to weight reduction emphasizing only increased fiber intake may be a reasonable alternative for persons with difficulty adhering to more complicated diet regimens.”

When it comes to the latest study about the AHA diet and fiber, Ms. Talamas offers these insights:

  • The AHA diet guidelines include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, protein sources including poultry, fish and nuts, while limiting red meat and sugary foods and beverages.
  • Lifestyle and dietary recommendations from the AHA are designed to support a healthy heart by controlling cholesterol and blood pressure. Recent research provides further support that the AHA eating pattern can help control your weight.

“The study provides yet another reason to fill your daily calorie allowance with more fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains,”    Ms. Talamas says. “Aim to make small changes to eventually adapt the AHA eating pattern to your lifestyle, which includes having vegetables at most meals, choosing fruit as a snack and incorporating more whole grains instead of refined grains.”

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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