Fiber is an incredibly important component of a healthy diet. The recommendation is for females to consume at least 25 grams of fiber daily and males to consume at least 38 grams of fiber daily. According to Healthy people 2010 data, Americans are currently not meeting this as typical intake is around 15 grams daily, with white flour and potatoes being the two largest sources of fiber in the diet (how sad is that?!).
Dietary fibers are found naturally in the plants that we eat. They are parts of plant that do not break down in our stomachs, and instead pass through our system undigested. All dietary fibers are either soluble or insoluble. Both types of fiber are equally important for health, digestion, and preventing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, diverticulitis, and constipation.
Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber
Soluble fiber dissolves in water. Insoluble fiber does not. To some degree these differences determine how each fiber functions in the body and benefits your health.
Soluble fibers attract water and form a gel, which slows down digestion. Soluble fiber delays the emptying of your stomach and makes you feel full, which helps control weight. Slower stomach emptying may also affect blood sugar levels and have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity, which may help control diabetes. Soluble fibers can also help lower LDL (“bad”) blood cholesterol by interfering with the absorption of dietary cholesterol.
● Sources of soluble fiber: oatmeal, oat cereal, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, beans, dried peas, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, and zucchini.
Insoluble fibers are considered guthealthy fiber because they have a laxative effect and add bulk to the diet, helping prevent constipation. These fibers do not dissolve in water, so they pass through the gastrointestinal tract relatively intact, and speed up the passage of food and waste through your gut. Insoluble fibers are mainly found in whole grains and vegetables.
● Sources of insoluble fiber: whole wheat, whole grains, wheat bran, corn bran, seeds, nuts, barley, couscous, brown rice, bulgur, zucchini, celery, broccoli, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, raisins, grapes, fruit, and root vegetable skins.
Regularly incorporating these ten foods into your menus and meal plans will help to keep your heart healthy. Focusing on monounstaurated fatty acids help 'push cholesterol in the right directions' (increase HDL, the good cholesterol, and decrease LDL, the bad cholesterol). Utilizing oils and nuts (as seen in the wonders of the Mediterranean diet studies) has been proven to help decrease incidence of heart attack and stroke.
Combine that with a balanced selection of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and you have a potent combination. All help increase fiber in the diet, which in turn helps control cholesterol. Selecting whole grains over refined grains also assists in decreasing circulating fats (triglycerides). And last but certainly not least, the fruits and vegetables provide a bevy of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
Top Ten Foods that Love Your Heart
- Olive Oil
Fight Heart Disease with Food
With new research out further backing the Mediterranean style of eating, maintaining a diet chock full of vegetables, fish and plant-based proteins, and healthy oils can and will help you to fight heart disease. This lifestyle doesn't just focus on these healthy items, but it is also limited in processed foods, red meats and dairy products, and sugary food items.
The Mediterranean diet principles are as follows:
- High intake of olive oil (4+ tbsp/day), fruit (3+ servings/day), nuts (3+ servings/week), vegetables (2+sevings/day), and cereals
- Some everyday strategies: sautee vegetables, include beans and legumes in dishes as healthy protein options, make your own salad dressings
- Moderate intake of fish (3+ times/week) and poultry (to replace red meats)
- Low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets
- Remove all visible fat prior to cooking
- Wine in moderation, consumed with meals, for habitual drinkers
All About the Study
Researchers split a cohort of over 7,400 adults aged 55-80 with a risk of heart disease (diagnosed high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes) into three diet groups: Mediterranean with supplemental extra-virgin olive oil, Mediterranean with supplemental mixed nuts, and a control diet in which fruits, vegetables, grains, and low fat dairy were emphasized. Participants in the Mediterranean groups had access to group classes run by a dietitian at the beginning of the study to learn about the diet and quarterly thereafter. The control group on the other hand was mailed information on following a low-fat diet annually.
Monitoring included an annual medical questionnaire, validated food-frequency questionnaire, and validated physical activity questionnaire. Height, weight, waist circumference, and biomarkers were measured at years 1, 3, and 5.
They saw a 28-30% reduction in incidence of cardiac events (heart attack, stroke) in participants that followed the Mediterranean diet with supplemental fats over the control group. These statistics are consistent with epidemiologic findings previously published.
While there are some limitations of the study, I am pleased to see a randomized, prospective research study in a high risk population with such statistically significant findings. [I'm sure my fellow RDs are happy to see this in a study about nutrition - we're often the red-headed stepchild of the research world!] To read more on the study directly from the New England Journal of Medicine, check it out here.
Soy is a high quality protein source that is low in saturated fat. These plants naturally contain phytoestrogens and have been shown to help reduce heart disease risk when consumed in conjunction with a heart healthy diet. Soy has been working its way into the Western diet more and more, with a market increase from $300 million in 1992 to $4 billion in 2008.
Soy products are a great way to work a meat-free protein source into the diet. I am a meat-lover myself, but the RD in me feels it is important to be mindful of the frequency and portion sizes of animal meats that I include. Incorporating soy products gives more variety to my diet while staying heart healthy - always a good thing!
Food for Thought
Historically, meat was always very expensive so families would only be able to afford it once or twice a week. A vast difference from our current environment in which people may consume a meat product twice a day. The modernization of agriculture and role of antibiotics and hormones in current animal farming practices have changed the cost of meats to us all. Always an interesting trend to think about...
Soy Product Options
Tofu - a processed form that comes in multiple textures and with a neutral flavor, use silken in dips and soups, use firm in stir fries, salads, and seasoned grilled kabobs
Edamame - young soybeans that can be directly consumed
Tempeh - a block of cooked whole soybeans condensed together, season and use as a meat substitute
Textured Soy Protein - defatted soy flour that has been compressed and dehydrated, consider making meatballs, chili, meatloaf, spaghetti sauce with this
Miso - a flavorful paste of fermented soybeans, often used as a seasoning base in stews/soups/sauces
Soy Meat Analogs - specific products suchs as hot dogs, cold cuts, and burgers that are made out of soy
Soy Flour and Soy Milk - exactly what you think they are, made from soy plants
Happy soy-ing! Share any good recipes you come across!!