Written By: Leora Aframian MS RDN
Figuring Out Fiber’s Association To Heart Health
When considering healthier diet options, evaluating your dietary fiber intake may not be on your priority list. Nevertheless, fiber is vital to our health and well-being. It has a multi-functional effect on keeping diseases at bay while lending itself to our everyday physical functions.
Some of the general roles of fiber in the body include preventing heart disease, working to reduce blood sugar levels, and maintaining normal digestion. Additionally, adequate fiber intake has been associated with a lower Body Mass Index (BMI). Yet, fiber is sometimes underappreciated, as it often stays under the radar in healthy diet discussions.
Recommended Daily Amount of Fiber
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 38g of fiber for men and 25g for women, or 14g per 1,000 calories daily. Older adults, ages 50 and older, require slightly less fiber as caloric needs tend to decrease. The recommendation for the older adult population, ages 51-70 years old, is 30 and 21 grams per day respectively.
These numbers are based on the research behind coronary heart disease protection. Most Americans fall short of this recommendation, as the average intake of dietary fiber is only 17g per day. Only 5% of Americans are meeting the fiber goals (Dahl and Stewart).
How Fiber Works to Keep Your Heart Healthy
Fiber’s protective effect on the heart is diverse. Fiber has a beneficial effect on serum lipid levels such as cholesterol and triglyceride values. Fiber helps lower “bad cholesterol” or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) while working to increase “good” cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Additionally, dietary fiber may help improve blood pressure values and reduce the body’s inflammatory markers (Dahl and Stewart).
Researchers found a decrease of 9% in cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD) with every 7 additional grams of dietary fiber daily. This is among the numerous and substantial evidence that links dietary fiber to a healthier heart.
Where to Find Fiber
Fiber is a carbohydrate that is found in plant foods such as whole grains and whole wheat bread, cereal grains, beans and legumes, dried fruit, fresh fruit and vegetables, and nuts and seeds.
Top Sources of Dietary Fiber
A few of the top sources of dietary fiber, as well as their nutritional considerations, according to the 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA):
- High Fiber Bran Ready To Eat Cereal per 1/3 -3/4 of a cup: 60-81 Calories, 9.1-14.3 grams of dietary fiber. High fiber cereal is a great substitute for your classic choices if you are looking for an easy way to increase fiber with minimal meal prep. Beware of cereals loaded with sugar to keep added calories at bay. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons or 36 grams for men and 6 teaspoons or 25 grams for women (2018). Make sure to check your nutrition fact labels to see how your choice of bran cereal measures up.
- Navy Beans per ½ of a cup: 127 Calories, 9.6 grams of dietary fiber. Most beans are good sources of dietary fiber, containing a range of just over 5 through just over 9 grams. Navy beans are at the top of the list at 9.6 grams, Pinto beans are midrange at 7.7 grams, and kidney beans sit at the lower range at 5.7 grams per ½ c. Any bean would be a good choice when deciding on a fiber-enriched routine and can be tailored to specific preferences and tastes.
- Split Peas Cooked per ½ cup: 114 Calories, 8.1 grams of dietary fiber. Along with the fiber content, split peas contain about 8 grams of protein per ½ cup and are a good source of various vitamins and minerals such as folate, thiamin, phosphorous, and potassium. Other options of legumes include lentils, and chickpeas or garbanzo beans. Similarly, chickpeas contain the same amount of fiber as split peas but are 176 calories per ½ cup. Lentils have a similar nutritional profile as split peas as they are 115 calories per ½ cup and contain 7.8 grams of fiber. Various sources of legumes can be nicely incorporated into your meal plan.
- Artichoke (Globe or French) per ½ cup: 42 Calories, 7.2 grams of dietary fiber. Artichokes are nutrient-dense but not calorically dense. That is, they provide a large number of nutrients for a relatively small amount of calories. Artichokes are also a good source of folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
- Raspberries per ½ cup: 32 Calories, 4 grams of dietary fiber. Raspberries are on the lower side of the caloric spectrum and are loaded with antioxidants and phytochemicals, as well. Raspberries are also high in vitamin C. Blackberries have a similar fiber content as raspberries at 3.8 grams of fiber for 31 calories.
It is important to note that not all fibers are the same. There are different types of fiber that have different effects on our bodies. For this reason, it is recommended to gather a variety of sources of fiber in our diets from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and other plant foods. You can tailor your choices based on personal nutritional profile and preferences.
A Word Of Caution Regarding Overconsuming Dietary Fiber
Too much fiber is not recommended as it can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, such as bloating or diarrhea. Choosing naturally occurring fiber sources from plant foods is encouraged in moderation throughout the day rather than supplementation, generally (Dahl and Stewart).
1. American Heart Association. “Added Sugars.” www.heart.org, 17 Apr. 2018, www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars.
2. Dahl, Wendy J, and Maria L Stewart. “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber.” Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 115, no. 11, 1 Nov. 2015, pp. 1861–1870.,doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.09.003.
3. Threapleton Diane E, Greenwood Darren C, Evans Charlotte E L, Cleghorn Christine L, NykjaerCamilla, Woodhead Charlotte et al. Dietary fibre intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis BMJ 2013; 347:f6879
4.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.