Inflammation is your body’s defensive response to infection or injury - to limit damage, get rid of whatever is causing the problem and restore the natural balance. When inflammation cannot be turned off, a state known as known as chronic inflammation, it can trigger heart disease and stroke.
Fortunately, studies show that increased consumption of dietary fiber can lower risk of heart disease by reducing chronic inflammation.
A 2004 study carried out at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta looked at the connection between dietary fiber consumption and blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) - which indicates the extent of inflammation. Experts believe that CRP may also be a possible predictor of future heart attacks and stroke.
The study authors found that greater consumption of dietary fiber lowered blood levels of CRP in the majority of nearly 4000 adult participants in the CDC study.
Clearly, dietary fiber lowers inflammation - but how does inflammation trigger heart disease?
Normally inflammation is part of the healing process. When there is no inflammation, low-density cholesterol (LDL) just floats harmlessly around in your bloodstream.
But once inflammation is triggered and becomes chronic, LDL cholesterol becomes modified by a chemical process called ‘oxidation’. Oxidized LDL gets trapped in artery walls, causing damage and triggering the immune system to form a plaque to protect the artery walls.
If inflammation isn’t turned off, plaque continues to build over several steps and leads to atherosclerosis - the first step in the development of heart disease.
Believe it or not, one of the biggest culprits behind chronic inflammation is your diet. For example, foods loaded with overly refined carbohydrates create large spikes in your blood sugar levels - and your body responds by releasing insulin to push that sugar into cells for energy.
As you continue to eat refined carbs, more and more sugar remains in your blood, attaching itself to proteins. These complex molecules scrape the sides of your blood vessels like sandpaper - triggering inflammation and your body’s repair mechanisms, leading to chronic inflammation, more plaque buildup and eventually heart disease.
The good news is that you can reduce your risk of heart disease by increasing your daily consumption of fiber, which binds to cholesterol and removes it from the body.
An added advantage is that fiber-rich foods tend to have lower glycemic indices (GI). They are less refined, more nutritious and usually don’t trigger massive rises in blood sugar or trigger inflammation.
In fact, fiber derived from whole grains, fruits and vegetables in the Mediterranean-style diet was shown to reduce risk of heart disease by 15% in just 3 months!
Oatmeal, beans and legumes, nuts like almonds and walnuts, whole grains, vegetables like carrots, spinach, broccoli, sweet potato, bell peppers, asparagus and fruits like oranges, apples, squash, cantaloupe, papaya all contain heart-healthy fiber.
Most dietitians recommend five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day, both for their fiber content and for many other health benefits.
What could be a simpler or more effective way to lower your risk of heart disease?