by Sarah Paxson
When an individual is faced with the task of lowering their cholesterol, it’s easy to assume that the most efficient method to do so is by taking a cholesterol lowering medication or by cutting out various cholesterol-ridden foods, like red meat and cheese. However, research suggests that dietary fiber can actually help lower cholesterol.
First, let’s start with what fiber actually is. Fiber is the part of a plant that is not broken down in the intestines by human digestive enzymes. Because it is not digested, fiber is not absorbed in the body. There are two kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble, though most fiber-containing foods contain both. Soluble fiber attracts water and begins to dissolve a bit, turning it into a gel-like substance, which slows down the movement of food through the small intestine. An individual stays fuller longer because the food stays in their digestive system longer. On the other hand, insoluble fiber speeds up the movement of food through the intestines, adding bulk to your diet. It’s a gut healthy fiber that has a laxative effect, promoting regularity. Insoluble fiber can be found in whole-grain foods, wheat bran, many vegetables, and fruit with skin.
Both types of fiber are important for your health, but evidence suggests that soluble fiber is more effective at lowering cholesterol. One of the ways it does this is through its ability to reduce the amount of bile reabsorbed in the intestines. When fiber interferes with the absorption of bile in the intestines, the bile is excreted in the feces. To replace this loss of bile, the liver makes more bile salts. Our bodies use cholesterol to make these salts. Therefore, the more bile salts are made from the liver, the more cholesterol is pulled from the blood.
You probably already know that fiber is important to good health, but how do you know if you are getting enough? Most Americans don’t. The average adult only eats 15 grams of dietary fiber per day. How much fiber do you need? Women need 25 grams per day and men should get 38 grams per day, according to a formula based on getting 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories. Sources of soluble fiber include oats, peas, beans, apples, and citrus fruits; one serving of any of these foods provides about one to three grams of soluble fiber. (But warning: Don’t increase your fiber consumption by more 5 grams a day, as fiber should be gradually increased over time. If you are increasing your fiber intake, be sure to also increase your water intake.) Start your day with Apple Pie Oatmeal to get a whopping 14 grams of fiber. Or, try a slice of Glazed Lentil Walnut Loaf for 15 grams.