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Fiber from whole foods protects heart

NORTHWESTERN (US) — A high-fiber diet in early adulthood may lower lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease, particularly when the fiber comes from whole foods rather than processed bars and drinks.

“It’s long been known that high-fiber diets can help people lose weight, lower cholesterol, and improve hypertension,” says Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, associate professor of  preventive medicine at Northwestern University.

“The results of this study make a lot of sense because weight, cholesterol, and hypertension are major determinants of your long-term risk for cardiovascular disease.”

The study, the first to show the influence of fiber consumption on the lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease, notes a high-fiber diet falls into the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 25 grams of whole food dietary fiber or more a day.

“A processed food may be high in fiber, but it also tends to be pretty high in sodium and likely higher in calories than an apple, for example, which provides the same amount of fiber,” Lloyd-Jones says.

For the study, researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative sample of about 11,000 adults, taking into consideration diet, blood pressure, total cholesterol, smoking status, and history of diabetes in survey participants and then used a formula to predict lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease.

“The results are pretty amazing,” says Hongyan Ning, lead author and a statistical analyst in preventative medicine at Northwestern. “Younger (20 to 39 years) and middle-aged (40 to 59 years) adults with the highest fiber intake, compared to those with the lowest fiber intake, showed a statistically significant lower lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Dietary fiber intake was not significantly associated with a reduction in lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease in adults 60 to 79 years, possibly because the beneficial effect of dietary fiber may require a long period of time to achieve, and older adults may have already developed significant risk for heart disease before starting a high-fiber diet, Ning says. “Starting a high-fiber diet now may help improve your long-term risk.”

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