As we get settled in to the New Year, many of us many find that we have already begun to neglect our resolutions, and maybe some of us have tossed them completely. However, Valentine’s Day often makes us think of ways that we can show our loved ones how much we care about and appreciate them. This year, consider showing your and your loved ones’ heart some love during the month of February. Living a heart healthy lifestyle is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Making heart health a true priority is a way to show your friends, family, and significant others (and especially yourself!) that you are committed to being there for them for years to come.

Any health journey starts with a trip to the grocery store! This is often the most complicated step for most people because there are endless options and, to the untrained eye, things may all look equally healthy. And packaging can be decieving. In effort to make shopping for health foods easier for the average consumer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has put in place labeling systems to make products that are heart healthy more identifiable. For heart claims, consumers will see a heart pictured, accompanied by a health claim.

A common health claim associated with heart health is “this food can help reduce cholesterol.” It may mention the soluble fiber content as well. While we may be accustomed to seeing these claims in the aisles of our grocery stores, consumers often have no idea what the claim means, or why it is even true.

What does it mean?

According to FDA requirements, in order for a food to carry the heart health claim, the product must contain at least 10% of the dietary daily recommendation for fiber intake. The national recommendation for dietary fiber intake for adult men is about 30 grams per day, and for adult women the recommendation is about 25 grams per day. So, in order to earn the FDA badge of heart health, in regards to fiber, the food must contain at least 2.5-3 grams of soluble fiber per serving.

How does fiber affect cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance in our bloodstream. It is created by our bodies naturally, and also enters our system through diet. Cholesterol is necessary component in many important compounds such as hormones, digestive juices, and Vitamin D (super important in the winter months).

Since cholesterol is fatty in nature, it is not able to be dissolved in water. Therefore, it requires a shuttle to be transported through the bloodstream. Some of these transporters are more effective than others. The effectiveness of cholesterol transporters is determined by their density. High density transporters (HDL) work better in our bodies than low density transporters (LDL).

An easy way to understand this is to think of your veins as a water slide and the transporters as people: When a heavier person (HDL) tries to go down the water slide, they need very little help. Their body weight works with gravity to allow them to move through the slide at a higher speed, without issue. They will be pushed through the slide before the next HDL takes their turn. However, when a lighter person (LDL) uses a waterslide, the pull of gravity does not have as much of an effect. The person will move through the slide more slowly and, as other LDLs take their turn on the slide, they might run into each other, causing a backup on the slide. Due to their lack of density, these LDLs will remain in the slide until something with more substance pushes them along. This is where fiber comes in to play. Soluble fiber acts as a lifeguard, coming down the slide to move things along. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and creates a gel-like substance. Soluble fiber is able to latch on to LDL particles in the bloodstream and, not only push them through the bloodstream, but also take some with them to be eliminated from the body to prevent future build-up.

Sources of soluble fiber

Click on linked item for a heart healthy recipe. Access additional high fiber recipes from The Mayo Clinic.

Questions about nutrition?

Health Promotion and Wellness offers free, individual diet analysis and nutrition guidance for those striving to improve their lifestyle. Faculty, staff, and students can meet one-on-one with the Health Promotion and Wellness nutritionist in a confidential setting at no cost.

Participants need to complete a three-day food diary and a health questionnaire available online prior to their nutrition consult. Forms may be returned via email, by campus mail to 2120, by fax to (309) 438-5003, or by hand delivery to the main Health Promotion and Wellness office in 187 McCormick Hall.

Health Promotion and Wellness also provides presentations for campus groups and organizations. Please call our office at (309) 438-WELL (9355) to request this service.