In recent years, a decline in both cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD) has been seen in some European countries and the United States. However, it still remains a significant issue accounting for almost half (48%) and a third (34%) of all deaths in Europe and the United States.
Many studies have examined the relationship between dietary fibre or fibre-rich foods and CVD risk factors.
Researchers at the University of Leeds reviewed literature published since 1990 in healthy populations concerning dietary fibre intake and CVD risk. They took data from six electronic databases. Cohorts of data were used from the US, Europe, Japan and Australia.
They looked at the following fibre intake: total, insoluble (whole grains, potato skins etc), soluble (legumes, nuts, oats, barley etc), cereal, fruit, vegetable and other sources.
Results from analyses of total, insoluble, fruit and vegetable fibre intake showed that the likelihood of a CVD or CHD event steadily lowers with increasing intake.
In soluble fibre, a higher reduction was seen in CVD risk than CHD risk and for cereal fibre, the reduced risk of CHD was stronger than the association with CVD.
Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet
Fiber provides many health benefits. Here’s how to fit more into your diet
Eat more fiber. You’ve probably heard it before. But do you know why fiber is so good for your health?
Dietary fiber - found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes - is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation. But foods containing fiber can provide other health benefits as well, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Selecting tasty foods that provide fiber isn’t difficult. Find out how much dietary fiber you need, the foods that contain it, and how to add them to meals and snacks.
A significantly lower risk of both CVD and CHD was observed with every additional 7g per day of fibre consumed. The researchers say these findings are aligned with current recommendations to increase fibre intake and demonstrate a large risk reduction with an achievable increase in daily fibre intake and say this could “potentially impact on many thousands of individuals.”
They add that an additional 7g of fibre can be achieved through one portion of wholegrains (found in bread, cereal, rice, pasta) plus a portion of beans / lentils or two to four servings of fruit and vegetables.
The researchers conclude that “diets high in fibre, specifically from cereal or vegetable sources ... are significantly associated with lower risk of CHD and CVD and reflect recommendations to increase intake.” Greater intake from fruit fibre was associated with lower CVD risk. They recommend further work on the association with soluble or insoluble types of fibre.
Benefits of a high-fiber diet
A high-fiber diet has many benefits, which include:
Normalizes bowel movements. Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it. A bulky stool is easier to pass, decreasing your chance of constipation. If you have loose, watery stools, fiber may also help to solidify the stool because it absorbs water and adds bulk to stool.
Helps maintain bowel health. A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease). Some fiber is fermented in the colon. Researchers are looking at how this may play a role in preventing diseases of the colon.
Lowers cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber found in beans, oats, flaxseed and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol levels. Studies also have shown that fiber may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
Helps control blood sugar levels. In people with diabetes, fiber — particularly soluble fiber — can slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. A healthy diet that includes insoluble fiber may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Aids in achieving healthy weight. High-fiber foods generally require more chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you’re no longer hungry, so you’re less likely to overeat. Also, a high-fiber diet tends to make a meal feel larger and linger longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time. And high-fiber diets also tend to be less “energy dense,” which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
Another benefit attributed to dietary fiber is prevention of colorectal cancer. However, the evidence that fiber reduces colorectal cancer is mixed.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr Robert Baron, Professor of Medicine at the University of California, says this study “increases our confidence that benefit, as reflected by reduced cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease events, will in fact accrue with higher dietary fibre intakes.”
He says that teaching patients to eat whole grains is still challenging, but that encouraging the increase of fibre gradually as well as drinking adequate amounts of water are other practical recommendations. The recommendation to consume diets with adequate amounts of dietary fibre “may turn out to be the most important nutrition recommendation of them all,” he concludes.
BMJ-British Medical Journal