All plant-based foods contain dietary fiber, which plays a role in your health. Two types of fiber exist in your daily diet: soluble and insoluble. The first type of fiber promotes healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and the second type promotes digestive health. For this reason, medical professionals consider fiber heart-healthy.
The 2 Faces of Fat
There's a saying that goes, "Fat equals flavor," and while this may be true, dietary fat serves up more than just taste. Too much fat can raise cholesterol in your blood, causing it to accumulate and put your heart at risk. In addition, your body stores dietary fat in the form of triglycerides. When the level of triglyceride in your blood is too high, your risk for heart disease increases.
Soluble Fiber in Action
Fiber is the indigestible portion of plants composed of polysaccharides, which are carbohydrates. When you consume fats, the resulting cholesterol reaches your small intestine. Soluble fiber, too, reaches the small intestine, where it combines with water to form a gel-like substance. The gel binds some of the cholesterol in the small intestine and removes it from the body, according to the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition. Scientists believe this is how fiber lowers cholesterol. Soluble fiber helps control triglycerides also.
Where and How Much
Rich sources of soluble fiber include oat bran, flaxseeds, oatmeal, wheat bran, beans, lentils and some fruits and vegetables. The recommended fiber intake refers to total fiber, not just soluble fiber. Fiber-rich foods contain a mixture of both types of fiber. Aim to get between 25 and 35 grams of total fiber each day, Harvard Health Publications recommends. It's best to increase your fiber intake gradually over the course of two or three weeks.
Know Your Numbers
Your health care provider can perform a simple blood test to provide you with your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Aim for a total cholesterol level that is below 200 milligrams per deciliter. The goal for triglycerides is less than 100 milligrams per deciliter. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is a bad form of cholesterol, so aim for a level lower than 100 milligrams per deciliter. The optimal range for high-density lipoprotein -- or HDL, a good form of cholesterol -- is 60 milligrams per deciliter or higher.
- University of Massachusetts Medical Center: What You Can Do to Lower Your Triglycerides
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Fiber
- Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition: How Soluble Fiber May Lower Cholesterol
- Harvard University Health Services: Fiber Content of Foods in Common Portions
- American Heart Association: What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean