Heart Healthy Foods
Soluble fiber is a naturally occurring substance found in some fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Clinical studies show that a heart healthy diet (low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and high in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain soluble fiber) can reduce heart disease risk by up to 36 percent.
To provide a heart benefit, foods must meet criteria for "low saturated fat," "low fat," and "low cholesterol." They must contain, without fortification, at least 0.6 grams of soluble fiber per serving, although for certain types of fiber, the amount needed to be considered heart healthy is greater.
One of the easiest ways to get soluble fiber into your diet is to eat bran cereals for breakfast. Some high-fiber, cholesterol-lowering cereals include:
- Oatmeal (which has 1.6 grams of fiber in ¾ cup of cooked cereal)
- Raisin bran
- Oat bran.
There are a number of foods on the market that are fortified with plant sterols or stanols. Foods fortified with plant sterols or stanols are heart healthy foods because they lower the risk for heart disease by helping to block absorption of cholesterol from the diet.
Sterols and stanols are substances that occur naturally in small amounts in many grains, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and some other plants. However, less than 500 mg a day of plant stanols are consumed in the average Western diet. Even people on a strict vegetarian diet consume less than 1 gram per day of plant sterols. Scientific studies have shown that consuming 1.3 grams per day of plant sterol esters or 3.4 grams per day of plant stanol esters can have a significant cholesterol-lowering effect. To achieve that level of consumption, people should look for foods fortified with plant sterols or stanols.
These heart healthy foods also should be consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and it is recommended that they be consumed in two servings at different times of the day with other foods. Studies have shown that foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols can lower LDL ("bad cholesterol") by up to 10 percent without affecting HDL ("good cholesterol").
Margarines and a number of other products are being fortified with heart healthy stanols, including Benecol® and Take Control®.