One often-overlooked strategy for keeping the heart healthy—or getting it back on track—is eating more fiber-rich foods. The May 2014 Harvard Heart Letter describes how fiber helps, and lists foods rich in fiber.
Fiber is a carbohydrate that your body can't break down, so it passes through the body undigested. It comes in two varieties: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains, wheat cereals, and vegetables such as carrots, celery, and tomatoes. Soluble fiber sources include barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, and fruits such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears. Both types have been linked to heart health.
"As a country, we aren't eating enough fiber," says Dr. Cheryl Clark, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. She is the senior author of a recent study that confirmed a fiber shortfall in the American diet: on average, we get only about half the daily fiber we need. Current recommendations call for 38 grams of fiber a day for men up to age 50 and 30 grams daily after that; 25 grams of fiber a day for women up to age 50 and 21 grams a day after that.
Dr. Clark's study also pointed to a connection between more fiber and less heart disease. Fiber may protect against heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
Why haven't people jumped on the fiber bandwagon? "I think there's just not enough awareness about the benefits of fiber," says Dr. Clark. She suggests making an effort to put more fiber-rich foods on your shopping list and to bring easy-to-transport whole fruits or nuts with you to snack on when you're out and about. Good sources of fiber include some breakfast cereals, whole grains and foods made from them, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
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