For Heart Health, Eat Plenty of This

Although the heart-health benefits of getting plenty of fiber in the diet each day has been well documented, a new study is showing that loading up on fiber when you're young or middle-aged may be especially heart protective.

The study from Northwestern University's medical school found that adults between the ages of 20 and 59 with the highest fiber intake had a significantly lower estimated lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease compared to those with the lowest fiber intake.

The American Heart Association recommends that you get 25 grams of dietary fiber or more a day. According to one of the study authors, Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, you should strive to get your daily fiber from whole foods, rather than from processed fiber bars, supplements, and drinks.

Added Versus Natural Dietary Fiber

The heart health benefits of fiber has become so well-known, companies are adding fiber to nearly everything, including water. But is "added" fiber, known as functional fiber, as beneficial as the fiber naturally found in foods? According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), you should get your fiber from a variety of sources, but maintains that fiber found in natural foods is superior to functional fiber.

While functional fiber, a nondigestible carbohydrate, has been shown to have some benefits, including adding stool bulk and helping prevent constipation, more studies are needed to determine the exact differences between the two forms of fiber and their advantages. Functional fiber is a fiber that is extracted chemically or some other way from a natural plant or animal source or they may be manufactured or synthesized and have such names as inulin, polydextrose, resistant maltodextrin, oligosaccharides, frutooligosaccharides, and methylcelluose.

Natural dietary fiber is divided into two categories: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is dispersible in water, while insoluble fibers are not. Soluble fibers help lower cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Insoluble fibers promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be helpful if you're struggling with constipation.

Best Sources of Fiber

Be sure to get your fiber from a wide variety of food sources. Good choices of fiber include:

  • grains and whole-grain products
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • beans peas and other legumes
  • nuts and seeds


For foods high in soluble fiber, add these to your diet:

  • apples
  • citrus fruits
  • barley
  • beans
  • oats
  • flaxseed
  • oat bran

Insoluble fiber foods include:

  • whole-wheat flour
  • wheat bran
  • nuts
  • many vegetables

Oregon State University. "Micronutrient Information Center."

Kansas State University. Nutrition News. "Are All Fibers Created Equal?" July 2010.

American Dietetic Association. "Food and Nutrition Information You Can Use."

Science Daily. "Load Up On Fiber Now, Avoid Heart Disease Later." March 23, 2011. Web.