Heart health from fats to fiber

A person’s risk of heart disease is generally determined using simple blood tests that measure the presence of certain risk factors such as lipids. But what exactly are lipids? And what can you do if your lipid levels are not where they should be?

What Are Lipids?
Lipids are fats found in our blood, such as cholesterol and triglycerides. A lipid profile is a common blood test that measures different types of cholesterol and triglycerides. Abnormal levels of lipids can increase your risk of developing fatty deposits (plaque) in your artery walls, leading to heart attack or stroke.

Plaque buildup can reduce the blood flow in the arteries and lead to the sudden formation of clots, which may totally block an artery, resulting in a heart attack or stroke. You can’t see or feel abnormal lipid levels, but it is very important to treat them to lower your risk of disease.

Lipid Value Goals
Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dl
LDL (“bad” cholesterol): Less than 100 mg/dl
HDL (“good cholesterol): More than 40 mg/dl
Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dl

Things that can put you at risk for heart disease (including heart attack and stroke) include …

  • Being overweight
  • High blood pressure (more than 140/90 or if you are on medication for blood pressure)
  • High LDL
  • Low HDL
  • Family history of early heart disease (father/brother under 55 or mother/sister under 65 years old)
  • Age (men over 45 or women over 55)
  • Any tobacco use
  • Diabetes
  • Being inactive

To reduce your risks of high cholesterol and heart disease, adopt healthy lifestyle choices such as the following:

  • Eat foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol
  • Avoid foods with trans fat
  • Eat foods high in soluble fiber such as oatmeal, carrots, pears, oranges, sweet potatoes, and dried peas and beans (10-25 grams each day)
  • Eat less than 6 ounces of lean meat, fish and skinless poultry each day
  • Eat more whole grains, vegetables and fruits daily
  • Become more active on a daily basis
  • Lose weight if needed
  • Avoid all tobacco use and being around smoke
  • Get regular medical exams, including blood work

With your doctor’s approval, try to engage in physical activity five days each week for a total of 30 minutes (or 150 minutes each week). Always take medications as ordered by your doctor and report any new or unusual symptoms that may be medication side effects.

How Can Fiber Help?
Dietary fiber is the undigested part of a plant food that has health benefits as the food passes through the intestinal tract. There are two types of dietary fiber—insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber (roughage) does not dissolve in water and assists in moving food through the intestines. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, forming a gel or gum.

Soluble fiber is especially beneficial for the heart. It binds with cholesterol and bile acids in the intestine, which can lower LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber also slows absorption of carbohydrates and can lower triglyceride and blood sugar levels in people who have diabetes. High-fiber diets have been strongly associated with decreasing blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

A high-fiber diet has other benefits, too. Fiber promotes a feeling of fullness, which can help with weight management and intestinal problems such as constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticulosis.

The recommended amount of daily fiber is generally about 25 to 40 grams of combined soluble and insoluble fiber. Note that when you look at the nutrition label for a store-bought food, if it doesn’t differentiate between soluble and insoluble fiber, the number on the label is the amount of insoluble fiber.

Add fiber to your diet gradually, as tolerated. Signs of intolerance include gas, bloating, or stomach cramps. Drink plenty of water as you increase fiber, and check with your doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist regarding any possible interactions with timing of medications and vitamins.

High-fiber Foods
Grains

All-Bran Buds cereal
Serving size: 1/3 cup; 13g total fiber; 4g soluble fiber

Fiber One cereal
Serving size: 1/2 cup; 13g total fiber; 1g soluble fiber

Quaker Quick 1-Minute Oats
Serving size: 1 cup, cooked; 8g total fiber; 2g soluble fiber

Whole wheat pasta
Serving size: 1/2 cup; 6g total fiber; 1g soluble fiber

Legumes/Nuts

Roasted soynuts
Serving size: 1/4 cup; 8g total fiber; 3.5g soluble fiber

Kidney beans
Serving size: 1/2 cup; 7.9g total fiber; 2g soluble fiber

Butter beans (dried)
Serving size: 1/2 cup; 6.9g total fiber; 2.7g soluble fiber

Vegetables

Turnips (cooked)
Serving size: 1/2 cup; 4.8g total fiber; 1.7g soluble fiber

Brussels sprouts
Serving size: 1/2 cup; 4.5g total fiber; 3g soluble fiber

Sweet potatoes
Serving size: 1/2 cup; 3.4g total fiber; 2g soluble fiber

Fruits

Blueberries
Serving size: 1 cup; 3.9g total fiber; 1.7g soluble fiber

Cherries
Serving size: 1 cup; 3g total fiber; 1g soluble fiber

Orange
Serving size: 1 small; 2.9g total fiber; 1.8g soluble fiber

For more tips on heart health and how to prevent heart disease, visit our Healthy All Year microsite. If you’re concerned about your heart health, talk to your doctor. For help finding a doctor, click here or call 1-844-GHS-DOCS (447-3627).

Lee Jones, BSN, RN, clinical coordinator with HeartLife cardiac rehabilitation program, and Tara Jones, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, clinical nutrition specialist with HeartLife, contributed to this post.

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