As part of our focus on heart health this month, we wanted to draw your attention to an often overlooked contributor to heart health: fiber.
Fiber is perhaps best known for its ability to help with digestion, but it plays a key role in heart health, metabolic health, and healthy weight management, too. It’s an essential part of a healthy diet, but most of us struggle to get enough of it.
Fiber: the basics
Fiber is a complex carbohydrate found primarily in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. The body can’t break down most fibers, so it passes through the body undigested.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. You’ll find it in barley, oatmeal, beans, and fruits. It can help keep your blood cholesterol and glucose levels in check. (More on that later.)
Insoluble fiber: This type of fiber doesn’t dissolve in water, at least not entirely. It’s found in whole grains, nuts, and vegetables. Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system, which is why this type is recommended for those who struggle with constipation. It also helps you feel full for longer, making it a handy and reliable weight-management aid.
Nutritionists recommend that adults get 25–40 grams of fiber per day. Easy enough, right? Unfortunately, most Americans are far off the mark—the national average is less than half that, around 11 to 13 grams per day.
Our modern lifestyles that prioritize convenience over health is part of the problem, but it doesn’t help that most processed foods are stripped of fiber, and even fruits and vegetables grown today aren’t as fiber-rich as they used to be. (This is due to farming techniques that produce sweeter, starchier produce, leaving us with food that may taste good but that doesn’t have as many nutrients as it once did.)
If you’re interested in learning more about fiber, check out our Q&A with one of Unicity’s scientists!
3 ways fiber supports heart health
So, the benefits of fiber are an easy sell. But what is fiber’s connection to heart health specifically?
1. Supports normal, healthy cholesterol levels
Foods with soluble fiber are known to help support normal, healthy LDL cholesterol levels, so long as you consume it regularly. Fiber binds to bile acids in the digestive tract, after which they are excreted out of the body instead of absorbed. This forces the liver to use more cholesterol to produce new bile acids, which can help support normal, healthy overall cholesterol levels. Additionally, soluble fibers can slow down the absorption of cholesterol from food.
2. Supports healthy blood pressure
This is another area where soluble fiber shines. Soluble fiber helps to reduce the absorption of sodium, which can help to decrease the volume of blood in the circulatory system. It can also slow down the absorption of glucose, which in turn helps to keep blood pressure in check.
3. Supports weight management
A high-fiber diet is associated with a lower waist circumference—in other words, less belly fat. Weight gain is linked to increased blood pressure, cholesterol, and other metabolic issues, which is why maintaining a healthy weight is so important for heart health. High-fiber foods tend to keep you fuller for longer too, helping you avoid overeating and snacking.
Tips to get more fiber in your diet
It’s not hard to find fiber-rich foods. Making sure we’re eating enough of them is the hard part.
A simple way to consistently eat more fiber is to make sure fiber is included in every meal and snack. Below are a few ideas.
Add berries and other fresh fruits to your oatmeal
Load your omelets with whatever veggies you have on hand: spinach, tomatoes, peppers, onions, etc.
Embrace avocado toast
Opt for whole-wheat or whole-grain bread for your sandwiches
Top off your salads with cooked beans or lentils
Leave the peel on apples, zucchini, and sweet potatoes—you get twice as much fiber that way!
Always have a vegetable with dinner—and eat it first
Add beans to casseroles and stews
Use brown rice and whole-wheat pastas
Popcorn isn’t just for movie nights (just stick with a low-salt variety with no butter)
Stock up on fruit and nuts instead of candy and baked goods
Dip celery sticks in hummus or nut butter
Fiber and your heart: BFFs for life
If you think about it, fiber is like a superfood. For starters, it’s an important nutrient that plays a crucial role in maintaining heart health. Fiber-rich foods also have many other essential nutrients that contribute to overall health. Even better, fiber comes in a variety of forms, so even picky eaters and those on special diets should be able to get what they need.
Actually eating all that fiber takes some effort, but remember this: your heart—the literal life force that keeps you going—will benefit greatly from that effort. And your life will be all the better for it.