In the fast-paced whirlwind of life, health should still be a top priority. Among the many aspects affecting heart health is cholesterol level. Although cholesterol isn’t the notorious villain that it’s sometimes portrayed as, high levels of LDL cholesterol (also known as “bad” cholesterol) share a strong link with heart disease – a foe we’d rather keep at bay.
Atherosclerosis, the buildup of cholesterol in the arteries, can lead to two unwanted villains – heart attacks and strokes, two of the more common health conditions that lead to disability and early death.
To pave the way for a healthier heart, managing LDL-cholesterol is something healthcare providers recommend. Fortunately, you have a powerful ally in this journey – soluble fiber. Fiber comes in two forms – soluble and insoluble. The former dissolves in water while the latter does not. However, each form of fiber affects your body differently. Insoluble fiber targets the health of your bowels while soluble fiber excels at keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy.
What does research show about soluble fiber and cholesterol? Consuming 2 to 10 grams of soluble fiber daily from varied sources is correlated with a modest but significant drop in LDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol. The takeaway? Even small changes like this can help stave off cardiovascular disease.
Soluble fiber has other perks for a healthy heart. Soluble fiber helps control blood sugar, weight, blood pressure, and inflammation. Why is managing inflammation important? Low-grade inflammation damages blood vessels and causes cardiovascular disease and blood clots. The smoldering flames of low-grade inflammation injure artery walls, setting forth a sequence of events that make it more likely to form and cause a heart attack or stroke.
The Merits of Soluble Fiber versus Insoluble Fiber
One type of fiber is more heart-healthy than the other and that’s soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber has its purpose – it helps regulate your bowels and make bowel movements easier, but it isn’t as effective for lowering your cholesterol level. That’s the job of soluble fiber. You can find soluble fiber in many plant-based foods, including oats, beans, apples, and blueberries. Its superpower is the ability to lower cholesterol for better heart health.
Soluble fiber’s wizardry lies in its unique approach. It fearlessly binds to cholesterol in the digestive tract, escorting it out of your body. But its influence extends beyond the heart. Feeling hungry all the time? Soluble fiber comes to the rescue, keeping hunger pangs at bay and aiding in weight management.
But there’s more! Your gut ecosystem thrives on fiber’s presence, maintaining its delicate balance and feeding those beneficial gut bacteria that are crucial to well-being. Your gut microbiome is command central to immune and brain health. The bacteria residents that call your gut home have an influence that extends outside the confines of your gut.
Not to mention, fiber-rich foods boast a treasure trove of essential vitamins and minerals, nourishing our bodies from within. So, beyond heart health, soluble fiber offers other perks that make it a worthwhile addition to your plate.
Many Plant-Based Foods Contain Both Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
Although we distinguish between soluble and insoluble fiber, many plant-based foods contain both. For example, when you bite into an apple. Soluble fiber is mostly in the pulp of the apple, while when you bite into the outer skin, you get mostly insoluble fiber. So, the key to getting enough soluble fiber is to eat more plant foods.
Some of the best sources of soluble fiber include:
Oats and oatmeal
Fruits – mostly in the pulp
Seeds – flaxseed and chia seeds are exceptionally high in soluble fiber.
One type of insoluble fiber, inulin, not only helps move food through your digestive tract more quickly, but also boosts Bifidobacterium, a healthy type of gut bacteria that supports the health of your gut microbiome.
Take a Multi-Faceted Approach to Heart Health
Of course, soluble fiber isn’t the only key to heart health. It requires a holistic approach, taming high blood pressure, leading a wholesome lifestyle, steering clear of smoking’s clutches, and, most importantly, taking part in regular physical activity. Your heart and body thrive on movement that boosts your heart rate.
Soluble fiber alone won’t guarantee that your LDL-cholesterol stays in the normal range and your arteries remain clear of plaque but in the setting of other lifestyle changes, like regular exercise, quality sleep, and stress management, it can put you at a greater advantage. You’ll still need to monitor your heart health by seeing your doctor regularly, following your blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, and lipid readings, and taking steps to keep them in a healthy range.
- LDL-cholesterol management is one aspect of a heart-healthy lifestyle, although it’s not the full story.
- A diet rich in soluble fiber can modestly lower LDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol levels.
- Soluble fiber has other heart health benefits. It helps with blood sugar control, weight management, lowers blood pressure, and reduces inflammation.
- Eat the rainbow and choose a diversity of plant foods to get more soluble fiber.
- A holistic approach to preventing cardiovascular disease works best. Think regular exercise, quality sleep, stress management, and a wholesome lifestyle, to complement the effects of soluble fiber.
Don’t be obsessed with choosing foods high in soluble fiber. Most plant-based foods contain both. So, add a variety of plant foods to your diet, so you get both forms of fiber. You’ll do beneficial things for your heart and your digestive tract. Eat more oats, fruits (mostly in the pulp), vegetables, beans, lentils, and seeds like flaxseed and chia seeds. These are all excellent sources of fiber, both soluble and insoluble.
Give the rest of your lifestyle a once over too. It’s easy to slip into bad habits! Are you sleeping well, managing stress, and avoiding heart-unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking too much? The more you stack healthy lifestyle habits, the more you’ll reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Plus, make sure you’re checking in with your healthcare provider and discussing your risk factors. Live a heart-healthy lifestyle and reap the rewards!
- Brown L, Rosner B, Willett WW, Sacks FM. Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Jan;69(1):30-42. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/69.1.30. PMID: 9925120.
- Surampudi P, Enkhmaa B, Anuurad E, Berglund L. Lipid Lowering with Soluble Dietary Fiber. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2016 Dec;18(12):75. doi: 10.1007/s11883-016-0624-z. PMID: 27807734.
- “Eat more fiber-rich foods to foster heart health.” 12 Jul. 2020, https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/eat-more-fiber-rich-foods-to-foster-heart-health.
- “Health benefits of dietary fibers vary.” 24 May. 2022, https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/health-benefits-dietary-fibers-vary.