Eating a fiber-rich diet can improve heart health. Fiber-rich foods may prevent or improve diabetes and other conditions that are associated with heart and other cardiovascular diseases. Dietary fiber can be found in many types of food and can be a delicious staple in everyday meals and snacks.
Combine foods high in fiber with polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and plant sterols and stanals for a heart-healthy diet that will lower the bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and raise the good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
Soluble FiberFoods high in fiber lower LDL cholesterol. Fruits such as apples, bananas and pears have soluble fiber. Kidney beans are packed full of soluble fiber as are barley and oats. A heart-healthy serving of oatmeal can provide as much as six grams of fiber. Adding fruit can increase the amount of fiber to 10 grams, which is sufficient to lower LDL cholesterol and overall cholesterol. Whole-grain breads often contain higher amounts of fiber than their more-processed counterparts. Checking the label is a must.
Polyunsaturated Fatty AcidsPolyunsaturated fatty acids maintain the elasticity of blood vessel walls. This allows the blood vessels to adapt to pressure changes with each heartbeat. Nuts are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and small servings may contribute to heart health. A handful of almonds, walnuts, peanuts, or other nuts are all one needs each day to lower one's risk of heart disease. Weight gain can increase one's risk, so it is important to eat just one serving of nuts per day.
Omega-3 Fatty AcidsOmega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and has proven beneficial to those at high-risk for heart attack. Two servings of fish per week contain enough omega-3 fatty acids to produce these benefits; however the fish should be baked or grilled rather than fried. Mayo Clinic suggests that albacore tuna, herring, lake trout, mackerel, salmon and sardines have the highest amounts of omega-3-fatty acids. These fatty acids can also be found ground flaxseed, canola oil, or food supplements.
AntioxidantsOlive oil contains a certain mixture of antioxidants that lower LDL cholesterol while leaving the good HDL cholesterol levels high. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendation is two tablespoons of olive oil per day. The less-processed extra virgin olive oil may be more beneficial than the lighter varieties. Olive oil is often used in salad dressing, as a fiber-rich, whole-grain pasta topping, or for sautéing vegetables.
Plant Sterols or StanolsPlants produce sterols or stanols, which are substances that inhibit the absorption of cholesterol from food. These substances only seem to lower LDL cholesterol and have no effect on HDL cholesterol. Only 2 grams of plant sterols are needed to lower LDL cholesterol. They can be found in sterol- or stanol-fortified foods such as orange juice, margarines and yogurt drinks.
Foods High in Fiber and a Heart-Healthy DietCombine foods high in fiber with other heart-healthy foods to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. Eat normal serving sizes and limit high-fat foods to maintain a normal weight because excess weight increases one's risk for heart disease. The following are ideas for incorporating foods high in fiber with other heart-healthy foods:
- Eat at least 10 grams of fiber per day.
- Eat no more than one serving of nuts per day for a heart-healthy serving of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
- Combine nuts with whole-grain breads, fruit salads, or other foods high in fiber.
- Add ground flaxseed to oatmeal to combine the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.
- Combine the power of antioxidants and fiber by tossing whole-grain spaghetti with olive oil, fresh basil and garlic.
- Mix powdered-fiber drink mixes to sterol-fortified orange juice.
- Add oats and flaxseed to yogurt to boost its fiber content.