Taking care of your diet and including essential nutrients is essential to keep cholesterol levels under control.
However, when organizing the diet it is common to overlook a very beneficial substance for this purpose: soluble fiber. Learn here what this substance is, how it differs from the insoluble one, why it is useful against cholesterol and where you can obtain it.
What is soluble fiber?
Fiber is a substance that our body cannot digest. It can be divided into two categories:
- Soluble fiber: dissolves in water and forms a kind of gel that slows digestion and protects the gastrointestinal tract.
- insoluble fiber: it is not dissolved or digested, so it does not reach the bloodstream. However, it passes through the digestive tract almost intact, so it helps prevent constipation.
Experts recommend a daily intake of between 21 and 25 g of fiber for women, and between 30 and 38 g for men. Regular consumption of fiber is linked to different health benefits, standing out:
- Relieve or prevent constipation.
- Increase the feeling of satiety, helping to maintain or lose weight.
- Prevent diabetes.
- Reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
Soluble fiber is also linked to benefits for cardiovascular health, thanks to the fact that it helps reduce blood cholesterol levels. According to the researchers, to obtain this benefit, you need to eat between 5 and 10 g of soluble fiber per day. You can get soluble fiber by incorporating these foods into your diet:
- protein foods: ½ cup of legumes, such as beans or chickpeas, provides between 1 and 3 g of soluble fiber.
- Fruit: One medium banana, apple, orange, or pear, 2 apricots, ½ mango, or 1 cup of raspberries provide about 1 g of soluble fiber.
- Whole grains: ½ cup of cooked barley, oat bran or quinoa provides between 1 and 2 g of soluble fiber.
- healthy fats: 2 tablespoons of avocado, 1 tablespoon of chia seeds or 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds provide about 1 g of soluble fiber.
- Vegetables: ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, or carrots provides 1 g of soluble fiber.
Why does soluble fiber lower cholesterol?
The benefits of soluble fiber on high cholesterol levels are not new. In 2002 a paper published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found, after analyzing 68 hyperlipidemic participants, that is, those who have high levels of fat particles in the blood, that consuming a diet rich in soluble fiber (about 8 g per day) significantly reduced cholesterol levels.
- What are the foods with the most fiber?
Other work published in Current Atherosclerosis Reports found that the consumption of soluble fiber can help reduce cholesterol levels between 5 and 10%.
While recent research, published in The American Journal of Cardiologyshowed that people who received psyllium (Plantago ovata) fiber supplements in addition to a statin experienced reductions in their “bad” cholesterol levels equivalent to doubling their statin dose.
But what are these associations due to? Why does soluble fiber help lower cholesterol levels? To answer these questions, we must first understand what cholesterol is. It is a substance that resembles fat and is found in all cells of the body. It is used to produce vitamin D, hormones and compounds that facilitate digestion.
Although the body can generate it on its own, it also obtains it through different foods, mainly of animal origin, such as cheese or meat.
The blood carries cholesterol to the cells through particles called lipoproteins. Two of the most important are low-density (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol, and high-density (HDL) or “good” cholesterol.
Soluble fiber is capable of reducing the amount of total cholesterol by trapping or adhering to bile, and eliminating it through the feces. Bile is a liquid produced and secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, which helps the body digest fats (which is why it usually contains a significant amount of cholesterol).
Another important factor in the reduction of cholesterol when we consume soluble fiber are the substances by which it is accompanied. For example, if we obtain soluble fiber from vegetables, it is very likely that we also obtain compounds such as sterols or stanols.
According to scientific evidence, diets rich in phytosterols reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine by competition, since they have a chemical structure similar to that of cholesterol.
Other tips to control cholesterol
Keep in mind the following healthy habits to keep blood cholesterol levels under control:
- Take care of food: Avoiding processed, refined or sugary products, especially those rich in simple carbohydrates, is essential to control cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. It is also necessary to replace the intake of saturated fats, which are found in meats, for example, with healthy fats, such as the one found in avocado, fish, olive oil or nuts.
- Limit or avoid alcoholic beverages.
- Maintain healthy weight: It is important to consume fewer calories to prevent them from being stored as fat.
- Get regular physical activity: It is recommended to do moderate-intensity exercises five times a week for 30 minutes a day. However, any activity, such as hiking or shopping on foot instead of driving, is a good start.
Until there is meaningful scientific evidence from human trials, people interested in using herbal therapies and supplements should be very careful.
Do not abandon or modify your medications or treatments, but first talk to your doctor about the potential effects of alternative or complementary therapies.
Remember, the medicinal properties of herbs and supplements can also interact with prescription drugs, other herbs and supplements, and even alter your diet.
Sources consulted: American Heart Association, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, US Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Lipid Association.