During their childbearing years, women have built-in protection against heart disease—estrogen. But after menopause, when estrogen production decreases, women’s heart disease risk begins to rise, until eventually it equals that of a man. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women alike, says the American Heart Association (AHA). One lifestyle element that can lower your risk is fiber.
Fiber encourages the body to use up the cholesterol it has stored in its arteries. It increases the amount of bile acid that is excreted in the stool, requiring the liver to take cholesterol out of the blood to replace the lost bile acid. Less cholesterol in the blood means less of a chance that cholesterol will build up in the arteries, where it can obstruct blood flow to the heart.
Results from the Nurses’ Health Study indicate that women who eat 23 grams of fiber a day have a 47 percent lower risk of experiencing a heart emergency than those who eat half that amount. Even after adjusting for factors like smoking and age, fiber eaters have a 23 percent lower risk than others. Most people only get half of the 25 to 30 grams of fiber recommended by the AHA.
What does this mean to you? It means that making simple changes, like eating whole-wheat bread instead of white, eating fruit as a midmorning snack or choosing salad (with low-fat dressing) over pizza, can help protect your heart.
All plant foods have fiber. But in most refined foods, such as white flour, bread and canned fruit, the fiber is removed during processing. The best sources of fiber come from whole-grain products and whole fruits and vegetables. The chart below can help you make some heart-smart choices.
Besides ridding the body of cholesterol, fiber also aids weight loss by filling people up faster, leaving less room for high-calorie foods.
If you do add more fiber to your diet, make sure to add it gradually and increase your fluid intake as well. Too much fiber without enough liquid can cause intestinal problems.