We know we are supposed to eat more fiber. But not all fiber is created equal. Dr. Janet Brill gives us the lowdown on the various kind of fiber.
Host: Gloria Tsang, RD
Guest: Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D, RD, LDN
2400 Americans die of heart disease every day, that’s an average of 1 death every 37 seconds. What can we do about it? For one, we know that a high-fiber plant-based diet can help prevent or lower the incidence of heart disease. Nutrition Expert Dr. Janet Brill, author of the book Cholesterol Down: 10 Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in 4 weeks gives us the lowdown on fiber.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Welcome to the Nutrition Tidbits podcast. This is Gloria Tsang, Editor-in-Chief for HealthCastle.com. 2400 Americans die of heart disease every day, that’s an average of 1 death every 37 seconds. What can we do about it? For one, we know that a high-fiber plant-based diet can help prevent or lower the incidence of heart disease. Joining me today is Nutrition Expert Dr. Janet Brill, author of the book Cholesterol Down: 10 Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in 4 weeks. She is here today to give us a lowdown on fiber. Welcome back Dr. Brill.
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: Thank you Gloria. It’s a pleasure to be back.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Last year, you talked to us about foods that can lower cholesterol. It is American Heart Month again and I can’t wait to invite you back. Briefly tell us how fiber intake can promote heart health.
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: Let me make it very clear. Dietary fiber is one of the most important weapons in our fight against heart disease, the number one cause of death in American men and women. So people who eat a higher fiber, whole grain rich diet have a significantly reduced risk of heart disease.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Now, the recommended level of fiber intake for adult women is 25 grams per day and 38 grams for men per day but data shows that most North Americans only eat half of the recommended levels. Why is it so hard to get enough fiber?
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: I think the problem is that people simply are not choosing to eat enough of the healthful foods that are high in fiber. Or perhaps the popularity of the low carb / high protein diets which are extremely low in fiber. Maybe people are eating too much fast food; it’s hard to find high fiber foods in your fast food restaurants. The best thing that people can do is to embrace healthy carbs because that’s where the fiber is – in the whole grains, the brown rice, the dark, dense breads with bran, fruits,vegetables, legumes and nuts. All of these are heart healthy, high fiber foods. And by the way, beans are your heart’s best friend. They are a fabulous food – packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and are ridiculously cheap. For a few cents, you get a whole lot of nutrition and lots of fiber.
Gloria Tsang, RD: And I think beans are totally a type of good that people don’t pay attention to. It’s so easy to cook with canned beans.
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: It’s really unfortunate.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Absolutely.
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: Americans seem to have passed over beans, which are so fabulous. For example, if you had just a bowl of split pea soup (which is a legume), that would give you half of your daily fiber requirement, just in a little bowl of soup.
Gloria Tsang, RD: One of the top pages on HealthCastle.com is about soluble fiber versus insoluble fiber. So which fiber is actually good for the heart?
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: When you are thinking heart, it’s going to be the soluble one but I just want to make it clear that both types are really good for your health. They have different physiological effects. Insoluble (fiber) promotes digestive health and bowel regularity. When it comes to heart health, it’s the soluble type. This type of fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel and that is especially good for our heart health. Why? Because it targets and reduces that bad LDL cholesterol, which is really important. Foods that are high in soluble fiber are going to lower that LDL. And by the way, we all want to get that LDL down to less than 100 (mg/dL). That is the magic number. It’s the foods that are high in soluble fiber, especially a kind of soluble fiber called viscous soluble fiber, that really make a dent in that LDL.
Gloria Tsang, RD: What are some good food sources for soluble fiber?
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: Only a few foods on the planet really contain a nice amount of LDL lowering soluble fiber and that would be oats. Of course, oatmeal is my favourite breakfast. And Barley is a whole grain, which is also high in beta-glucan, which is the name of the viscous soluble fiber in oats and barley. Beans, of course, are high in soluble fiber. Apples contain pectin which is a cholesterol lowering soluble fiber. Then there is psyllium seed husk, probably better known by most people as metamucil, which is another extremely potent LDL or cholesterol lowering soluble fiber.
Gloria Tsang, RD: These are the foods that are recommended from your book? I am just looking at your book right now.
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: That’s right. That’s because they have been scientifically proven to lower or target that bad LDL cholesterol.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Now I noticed that some new packaged foods like yogurt and ice cream are now added with extra fiber. But when I look more into it, I found that the fiber they added is quite different. They are isolated fibers like inulin, oat hulk fiber and cellulose. Are these isolated fibers the same as the natural fibers found in plant-based foods?
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: Fibers like inulin are isolated or extracted from fruits and vegetables like onions, chicory root and garlic. Apparently, these are soluble fibers but they don’t have that viscous cholesterol lowering quality. Now it’s very common in foods to see this type of isolated fibers like low fat dairy products, because it’s going to help add back that fat-like mouth feel that has been taken away when you take the fat out. So they (isolated fibers) are good in some respect because inulin is a pre-biotic which is food for the friendly bacteria in your gut so there is a notable health benefits with pre-biotics. But, if we are looking at trying to bump up our fiber intake, this would not contribute very much. So your best bet again is to focus on getting in those wide varieties of whole foods with good carbs like fruits and vegetables, the whole grains, the legumes – those fiber super stars. You want to try and get a lot of them into our day and that is what’s going to really make a dent in bumping up your fiber intake to the recommended amounts.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Great information.
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: Can I just give one final caveat?
Gloria Tsang, RD: Absolutely.
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: When it comes to fiber, you don’t want to add in too much, too quickly, too soon or you will have some GI (gastroentestinal) problems. You want to take it slow and build up your fiber intake over time so your body can adjust. Also, you want to drink a lot of fluid because the higher your fiber intake, the more fluid you are going to need to help your body to digest it.
Gloria Tsang, RD: I keep getting press releases from companies talking good things about inulin. Many of them say that it’s a naturally occurring fiber. Sometimes I am sceptical when things are added, I don’t know if it’s really naturally occurring. So I am interested to know what’s you take on that?
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: My take is that you can say that it’s naturally occurring because it comes from plants. It’s plant fiber that has been extracted or isolated so that kind of gets around that label lingo. So yes, it’s naturally extracted from plants. But the concentration has been manipulated as such that it does not have that viscous quality – it’s a soluble fiber without the viscous quality. And it’s that viscous quality that we need to lower the bad LDL cholesterol. That’s the quality that almost works like a sponge in the intestines to soak up the bile acids and cholesterol so you excrete it. That is the mechanism for lowering cholesterol and inulin and those types of isolated fibers just don’t have that quality.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Good. So what we look for is viscous soluble fiber and that’s the best bet for our hearts.
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: That is the best bet and you are not going to see that on a label of oatmeal because it will probably say soluble fiber or in an apple, you are not going to see a label saying contains pectin. Just go for whole grain, oatmeal – the less processed the better, steel cut is the best. Beans are great, apples and if you want, that psyllium seed husk supplement.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Great. To find out more information about foods that can lower cholesterol, please visit Dr. Brill’s website. www.cholesetroldownbook.com. Thank you again for joining me Dr. Brill.
Janet Brill, PhD, RD: Thank you Gloria. It was my pleasure.
Gloria Tsang, RD: We have been talking to nutrition expert Dr. Brill, author of Cholesterol Down. For more healthy eating tidbits and information about this show, go to HealthCastle.com.
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Gloria Tsang is the author of 5 books and the founder of HealthCastle.com, the largest online nutrition network run by registered dietitians. Her work has appeared in major national publications, and she is a regularly featured nutrition expert for media outlets across the country. The Huffington Post named her one of its Top 20 Nutrition Experts on Twitter. Gloria’s articles have appeared on various media such as Reuters, NBC & ABC affiliates, The Chicago Sun-Times, Reader’s Digest Canada, iVillage and USA Today.