Are You Eating Enough Fiber to Lower Cholesterol?

While doing research for my exciting new project—a low-cholesterol cookbook that will debut in January, 2018 (more on that in subsequent posts!)—I was reminded just how important fiber is to a diet that helps naturally lower cholesterol.

Which of course made me realize I’m probably not getting enough fiber. On the plus side, I am definitely back in the habit of a daily dose of Metamucil.

On the downside, that only delivers 3 grams of total dietary fiber, and 2 grams of soluble fiber, which is known to decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol.

How does that compare with the amount of fiber a person needs to consume daily to help lower cholesterol?

I could do better.

Adults need to consume 5 to 10 grams (or more) of soluble fiber to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. As for total dietary fiber, adult women need 25 grams and adult men should consume 38 grams of total fiber per day (those over age 50 require less):

 

Age 50 or youngerAge 51 or older
Women25 grams/day21 grams/day
Men38 grams/day30 grams/day

Source: The Mayo Clinic’s article, Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet, which lists these as the total daily fiber recommendations for adults.

The Mayo clinic goes on to list fiber-rich foods (and clearly, I can’t just rely on Metamucil—I need to make sure these play a large role in my daily diet):

“If you aren’t getting enough fiber each day, you may need to boost your intake. Good choices include:

– Whole-grain products
– Fruits
– Vegetables
– Beans, peas and other legumes
– Nuts and seeds
– Refined or processed foods — such as canned fruits and vegetables, pulp-free juices, white breads and pastas, and non-whole-grain cereals — are lower in fiber. The grain-refining process removes the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which lowers its fiber content. Enriched foods have some of the B vitamins and iron back after processing, but not the fiber.”

Are you getting enough fiber to help lower your cholesterol?

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The Cheerios Myth

Cheerios claims to be clinically proven to help lower cholesterol: as much as 10% in 1 month! As I don’t hate Cheerios — and they’re far faster to make in the morning than oatmeal — I thought it warranted investigation.

An April 2009 research study conducted by the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition (which is owned by General Mills, the maker of Cheerios) did indeed prove that eating 3 cups of Cheerios per day “as part of a reduced calorie diet low in fat” lowered LDL or “bad” cholesterol about 10 percent in one month.

Pretty impressive.

Except it’s not, really.

What it is is marketing muscle. General Mills created a positioning for Cheerios and went after it — brilliantly.  It’s completely true that Cheerios as part of a healthy diet can lower cholesterol.  So, um, can apples and broccoli.

The real rub is this: to eat 3 cups of Cheerios per day would be a LOT for a Cheerio-lover, which I am not. And even if I were, 3 cups is 3 SERVINGS of Cheerios per day (!) to get to the 3 grams of soluble fiber that is behind all that cholesterol lowering. Three servings of cereal per day is not just a lot of food, it’s also a lot of calories (380 with 1 cup of skim milk, according to the Cheerios box).

Let’s compare that with a measly HALF-cup of oatmeal.  One-half cup (a very reasonable – some might even say small serving size) of Quaker Old Fashioned or Quick oatmeal delivers 2 grams of soluble fiber.  So to get to 3 grams of soluble fiber, all you need to do is eat 3/4 cup of oatmeal rather than 3 cups of Cheerios.

Oatmeal not your thing? That’s OK, there are other cold cereals that are better than Cheerios at delivering soluble fiber. In fact, the UMass Medical School published this very handy spreadsheet comparing breakfast cereals: How Does You Cereal Rate?

So yes, technically, Cheerios can help lower cholesterol. They’ve proved that and are marketing it well.  But there are other cereals (and other breakfast choices) that do it better…other choices that deliver more soluble fiber in a reasonable serving size.

As for me, since I don’t love cold cereal, I’m sticking with my daily 1/2 bagel with lox for breakfast. Alongside my bagel, all I have to do is chug down one and one-half glasses of Metamucil, since just 1 Tbsp of Metamucil delivers 2 grams of soluble fiber. Takes about, um, 30 seconds – versus what would feel like days for me to eat 3 cups of cold cereal.

Take THAT Cheerios.

And now I need to find that Metamucil bottle, since I seem to have stopped taking Metamucil this summer.  Gotta’ get back on that efficient lo-co bandwagon.

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