Whole Grains for Your Heart? Use the 5 to 1 Fiber Rule

Grain and cereal food selection in heart shaped porcelain bowls over lokta paper background. Green freekeh wheat in large dish with ears.

Ever since your doctor told you to start eating more fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes (beans, split peas, chick peas, and lentils), you switched to eating whole wheat bread. You congratulated yourself on trading in (reluctantly) your soft white “wonder” for a 21-grain brick, but your new kind of loaf may not be as healthy and whole as you might think.

Why You Need More Dietary Fiber

There is accumulating evidence that eating more dietary fiber reduces your risk for:

• Type 2 diabetes
• Cardiovascular disease
• Certain cancers
• Weight gain
• Obesity
• Diverticular disease
• Functional constipation

According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, as your fiber intake goes up, your risk of metabolic syndrome goes down resulting in less inflammation and a drop in obesity risk. It was concluded that greater dietary fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease. (See ‘”Inflammation / Foods that Heal and Harm“)

It’s no surprise that another study concluded that for every additional 7 grams of fiber consumed, heart disease risk decreased by 9%. Seven grams of fiber really doesn’t equate to that much food. You can get 7 grams through a serving of whole grains plus beans or lentils (e.g., rice and beans), or a few servings of fruits and vegetables.

How Dietary Fiber Benefits Your Heart

The cardiovascular benefits of dietary fiber include:

  • Helps get rid of excess bile (reduces LDL “bad” cholesterol)
  • Reduces cholesterol production
  • Feeds our “good” bacteria
  • Changes our gut hormones
  • Promotes eating low-calorie-density foods
  • Increases satiety
  • Delays gastric emptying

These effects collectively help control your cholesterol, body weight, blood sugar, and blood pressure which all reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Also, per a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dietary fiber has been shown to reduce inflammation, specifically, C-reactive protein, a sensitive inflammatory marker that can predict chronic disease.

Eat More Whole Plant Foods

Consuming more dietary fiber means eating lots of whole plant foods, such as:

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes
Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes

Soluble fiber acts like a “cholesterol sponge”. Sources include:

  • Oats
  • Nuts
  • Seeds (especially flaxseeds)
  • Legumes
  • Most fruits

Sources of insoluble fiber, a.k.a. “Nature’s Broom”, help prevent constipation and include:

  • Whole wheat
  • Wheat bran
  • Brown rice
  • Other whole grains
  • Most vegetables

When shopping for “packaged” grain products, such as bread, crackers and ready-to-eat cereals, the first word in the ingredients list should be “whole”. However, the remaining ingredients might look like a bunch of chemicals, so how do you choose?

The “Five to One Fiber Rule”   

A more reliable strategy to identify a healthy whole grain food product is to   Continue reading “Whole Grains for Your Heart? Use the 5 to 1 Fiber Rule”

10 Factors That Affect Blood Pressure Readings

In “The #1 Biggest Mistake That Affects Blood Pressure Readings“, wrong blood pressure cuff size topped the list as one of the most frequent errors made when measuring blood pressure. Be conscious of the following factors the next time you get a blood pressure reading. They can affect it by 5 to 50 points, and artificially high or low readings could affect your medical treatment.

1. Arm Position

Correct blood pressure arm position

Your palm should be facing up and your arm should be supported and horizontal at the level of the midpoint of your sternum (chest bone) which is at the approximate level of the right atrium of your heart. It may be necessary to place a pillow under your arm or adjust the chair or table to achieve the correct position.

  • If your upper arm is BELOW the level of the right atrium, your blood pressure readings will be too high (blood is flowing down into the arm).
  • If the upper arm is ABOVE heart level, the readings will be too low (blood is flowing down from the arm).

Researchers studied a group of outpatients to determine the effects of arm position on blood pressure measurements. Blood pressures were taken and compared in the following arm positions:

  1. Sitting with arms hanging down and elbows resting on the armrests of a chair (i.e., the elbow is at a right angle)
  2. Sitting with arms supported at the level of the mid-sternum
Blood pressure should be read with arm supported at the level of the mid-sternum

The results showed that blood pressure readings were significantly higher when sitting with arms on the armrest of the chair. Readings can be over 10 mm Hg higher in both systolic (upper number) and diastolic (lower number) pressures.

Blood pressure readings are elevated significantly when the arm is hanging down.

In another study of 100 random emergency room patients, blood pressures were compared in two positions: 1) Arm lax and hanging down parallel to the body and 2) Arm in the “correct” position. Among the seated patients, 22% of them were diagnosed with hypertension, but twice as many patients were diagnosed with high blood pressure with the arm hanging down. Be sure to note the position of your arm whenever a clinician takes your blood pressure.   Continue reading “10 Factors That Affect Blood Pressure Readings”

How Stress Causes Heart Attacks and Disease

You eat healthy and exercise, but you have clogged arteries or worse yet, had a heart attack. You wonder how that could possibly be. Well, here’s one of the key (and most overlooked) reasons why… STRESS. 

Are You Stressed Out?

Psychological stress can emerge when you’re unable to cope or respond to real-life demands (stressors), e.g.,  unemployment, caregiving for the the chronically ill, family dysfunction, poverty, and/or work, marital, or financial issues. According to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2011), there are two types of stress:

  1. Acute stress – short-term form of stress that stems from the demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future.
  2. Chronic stress – long-term form of stress that derives from unending feelings of despair/hopelessness.

Coping with Stress

Coping skills are essential in stress management. How well do you manage your stress? Take this 20-minute Coping and Management Skills Test in Psychology Today and find out. Click here for the 38-question self test.

Various studies have shown that exposure to persistent stress can result in long-term or permanent changes in the way you respond:

  • Emotionally – e.g., increased likelihood of depression
  • Physiologically – e.g., decreased ability to regulate inflammatory responses due to decreased tissue sensitivity to cortisol (your primary stress hormone and regulator of inflammation)
  • Behaviorally – e.g., increased smoking, decreased exercise and sleep, poor medical compliance

These changes can affect your susceptibility to and the development and progression of disease.   Continue reading “How Stress Causes Heart Attacks and Disease”

Get Heart Smart

February is Heart Awareness Month
February is American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month — an annual reminder to raise your awareness about heart disease and how you can prevent it.

Here at The Health Reporter, you can find a variety of posts related to cardiac health that can help you and that you can share with people important to you.

It’s easy! To find heart-related articles and videos, go to Categories (left column of this blog page) then scroll down to “Heart Health | Cardiac Rehab” and click on it. You’ll be able you to share any post via email, Facebook or other favorite social media sites.