Cholesterol reduction through the use of statin drugs has become a big and profitable business for the pharmaceutical industry. As more and more people have opted for a pill to help control their cholesterol levels fewer people are using fiber as their first line of defense.
So why has the use of fiber declined? For most people compliance is the issue!
In this post we’ll examine how increasing your fiber intake helps in cholesterol reduction. In part 2 I’ll share with you 3 steps to increase your fiber intake.
According to the American Heart Association, high cholesterol levels are a major risk factor for the cardiovascular disease atherosclerosis, which increases the risk for heart attacks and stroke. The main contributing factor to this problem is LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol which is commonly called “BAD” cholesterol.
Over 100 million Americans have cholesterol levels that exceed the recommended level with 20 percent of these considered in the high category.
Soluble fiber has been clinically shown to reduce LDL cholesterol. The typical American diet has somewhere between 5-14 grams of dietary fiber per day.
In 2002, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences Research Council issued Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for fiber. For males between the ages of 19-50 it is 38 grams of fiber per day. For women in the same age category it is 25 grams of fiber per day. If your age is greater than 50, then the amount of fiber decreases to 30 grams for men and 21 grams for women. At best the typical American is only getting 50% of the needed fiber in their diet.
What is Dietary Fiber?
Dietary fiber is found only in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, nuts, and legumes (dried beans, lentils and peas). Although there are several forms of fiber, they are usually classified into two groups:
Soluble fiber can dissolve in water to form a gel-like substance in the digestive tract. This soluble fiber is beneficial in lowering the “BAD” cholesterol. Clinical studies have shown that diets containing 10 to 25 grams of soluble fiber per day can lower LDL cholesterol by 18%. Sources of good soluble fiber include oats, peas, beans, apples, and citrus fruits. Typically one serving of any of these foods will provide about one to three grams of soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber cannot dissolve in water so it passes through the digestive tract relatively unchanged. This insoluble fiber helps to make your stools softer and bulkier and speeds elimination. Sources of insoluble fiber would include whole-grain foods, wheat bran, most vegetables and fruit with skin.
Typically, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables contain just as much fiber as raw ones. However, some types of refining processes may reduce the fiber content. Current food labeling requires the amount of dietary fiber to be listed. It is listed just below the “Total Carbohydrate” portion of the Nutrition Facts section of the product label. For a manufacturer to make fiber claims it must meet the following guidelines:
High Fiber: 5 grams or more per serving
Good Source of Fiber: 2.5 – 4.9 grams per serving
More or Added Fiber: At least 2.5 grams more per serving than the reference food
How Fiber Decreases Cholesterol Naturally!
One of the ways the body eliminates cholesterol is through the excretion of bile acids. Water-soluble fiber such as pectin and fiber found in rolled oats helps to bind these bile acids so that they are not reabsorbed in the intestines. This forces the liver to make new bile salts.
To do so the liver increases its production of LDL receptors. These receptors then pull LDL cholesterol out of the bloodstream. The more bile salts the liver has to make the greater the amount of LDL cholesterol pulled from the blood. By increasing your fiber intake you increase the amount of fiber available to bind these bile salts to speed this natural cholesterol reduction method.
Soluble fiber also seems to have a secondary method for cholesterol reduction. Although this method is not completely understood it seems that the fermentation of soluble fiber in the large intestines produces several short-chain fatty acids. One of these fatty acids will travel to your liver to tell it to produce less cholesterol.
In my next post I’ll help you discover some fairly simple ways to increase your fiber intake.