Heart : Focus on Fiber

You've probably heard it before: Eat more fiber! The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends between 20 and 30 grams of fiber a day, but most of us aren't eating half that amount. With benefits that range from heart health to weight management, fiber is essential for good health. January is national Fiber Focus Month, and it's the perfect time to start incorporating more fiber into your diet so you can reap the many benefits of fiber year-round.

Dietary fiber, or roughage, is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Unlike fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, the body doesn't break down and digest fiber -- instead it passes through the stomach, small intestine, and colon relatively intact. There are two types of fiber, and most plant-based foods contain both:
  • Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It's found in oats, beans, apples, citrus fruits, and apples.
  • Insoluble fiber increases stool bulk. It promotes the movement of material through the digestive tract. Whole-wheat flour, beans, nuts, cauliflower, and potatoes are excellent sources of soluble fiber.

    In addition to normalizing bowel movements and helping to maintain bowel health by reducing the risk of diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, and possibly even colon cancer, research shows fiber benefits wellness in a variety of ways.

    The soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed, and oat bran may help lower total cholesterol and help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Heart-protective fiber also promotes healthy blood pressure, and researchers have found that for every 7 grams more fiber you consume every day, your stroke risk is decreased by 7 percent.

    Soluble fiber can also be beneficial for people with diabetes. It slows the absorption of sugar and helps improve blood sugar levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, a healthy diet that includes soluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

    Did you resolve to lose a few pounds this year? High-fiber foods tend to be more filling than foods low in fiber, so you're likely to eat less and stay satisfied longer. High-fiber foods also tend to have fewer calories for the same volume of food.

    Upping your fiber intake is easy when you stick to a wholesome plant-based diet. Add kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and other varieties to your soups and salads. Consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, and eat the peel whenever possible -- it's usually a great source of fiber. Be sure to opt for organic when it's available.

    Add dried fruits to your baked goods, and top cereal and yogurt with fresh fruit. Finally, pick whole-grain foods over refined ones. To identify whole grains, look for these ingredients on labels: whole wheat, oats, rye, brown rice, barley, buckwheat, millet, and bulgur.

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