As it turns out, dietary fiber isn’t just good for the digestive system — it’s also good for the heart.
This is according to Cristiane Mayerhofer of Oslo University Hospital in Norway, who proposed that heart failure patients who consume more dietary fiber tend to have healthier gut bacteria. A healthy gut microbiota is associated with a reduced risk of death or need for a heart transplant.
“Our gut microbiota is composed of trillions of microorganisms that have the potential to affect our health,” Mayerhofer said at her presentation at Heart Failure 2019, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). In her presentation, Mayerhofer cited previous research that reported a reduced biodiversity of microbes in the gut of heart failure patients.
“Today we show for the first time that this is related to low fiber intake,” Mayerhofer said.
For their study, Mayerhofer and her team first assessed and sequenced bacterial genes present in stool samples collected from 84 well-treated patients with chronic heart failure and 266 healthy people.
The researchers found that the heart failure patients had lower intestinal microbe biodiversity than the healthy people. In particular, the patients had a lower ratio of Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes (F/B) — the two main phyla of bacteria in the human gut — than the healthy controls, and this difference was even more pronounced in those with non-ischemic heart failure.
When the researchers performed dietary and outcome analyses, they observed a similar trend in gut microbiota diversity among patients who had received a heart transplant or had died. On the other hand, they noticed a positive association between fiber intake and bacterial diversity and Firmicutes levels.
“Our findings suggest that the altered microbiota composition found in patients with chronic heart failure might be connected to low fiber intake,” Mayerhofer said. She added that people need to consume more high-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy gut flora. (Related: Understanding the “gut-brain axis” – Can people with anxiety benefit from probiotic foods and supplements?)
Dietary fiber 101
Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods. It comes in two varieties: soluble and insoluble. Good sources of soluble fiber include barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts and fruits. Insoluble fiber, meanwhile, can be obtained from whole grains, wheat cereals and vegetables.
Dietary fiber consumption has been linked to many health benefits, such as blood sugar regulation, relief from constipation and weight management. Regular fiber intake is also associated with a lower risk of stroke, Type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.
According to dietary standards, the average American adult needs to consume 25 grams of dietary fiber a day. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, says that a person’s fiber intake may be higher or lower depending on his calorie needs.
Here are some ways to increase your fiber intake:
- Go for organic and whole-food carbohydrate sources. Eat organic potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes with the skins on.
- Choose high-fiber whole grains over refined ones. Refined grains are heavily processed, which means they have been stripped of most of their nutrient content. In contrast, whole grains are unprocessed, so they can provide all the micro- and macronutrients (including fiber) they naturally contain. This makes them more filling than processed foods. Here are some great whole grains to add to your diet:
- Add organic chia and flax seeds to your diet. Both nutritional powerhouses, these two seeds can be added to your favorite breakfast smoothies as vitamin- and fiber-rich toppings.
- Eat whole organic fruits and vegetables. Juicing may be what’s in and convenient right now, but juicing your favorite fruits and vegetables won’t give you the fiber that you need.
- Grab organic nuts for snacks. Not only are nuts rich in nutrients, protein and healthy fats, they’re also rich in fiber. Choose raw, organic nuts to enjoy their full health benefits.
Eating high-fiber foods not only helps with digestion, it can also help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels, which benefits your heart. Add fiber-rich foods to your diet for a healthier gut and heart.