Cholesterol is a substance found in food and in your blood. Some cholesterol is normal, but when cholesterol is high or is predominantly the bad type (known as low density lipids or LDL), a health problem is waiting to happen. The good news is that there are a few great ways to manage cholesterol. Medications are one way to lower cholesterol, but they have side effects. This is where dietary fiber comes in. Find out about the fiber and cholesterol connection, and see what fiber can do for you.
What is fiber?
Fiber is a plant-based substance. Fiber serves as the physical structure of the plant it lives inside. This structure, or fiber, cannot be broken down by the body's enzymes. This means your body cannot digest and absorb it, so passes it out of your body when you go to the bathroom. During the digestion process, dietary fiber is useful in keeping your digestive tract healthy. Fiber has also been found to have a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol levels, prevent heart disease and some cancers, reduce blood pressure and regulate blood sugar and weight, according to Discovery Health.
Types of fiber
There are two basic categories of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Most foods that have naturally occurring fiber contain some of each type of fiber.
Fiber and cholesterol
Soluble fiber lowers blood cholesterol by reducing the absorption of bile in the intestines. This causes the liver to create more bile salts. Because the body uses cholesterol to create bile salts, the amount of cholesterol is reduced in the body. The cholesterol is literally pulled out of the low-density lipid molecules in the blood. Soluble fiber may also lower the amount of cholesterol that the liver makes in the first place. A good rule of thumb, as noted by Discovery Health, is for every additional 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber consumed in a day, your LDL cholesterol is reduced by about 5 percent. Fiber rich in beta-glucan, like oat bran and barley, may reduce total cholesterol levels in the blood.
How to get more fiber
Because, as stated by the Mayo Clinic, a strong link between fiber and lower blood cholesterol has been shown, getting extra fiber should be a high priority. It's easy to increase your fiber intake. Simply add more fruits and vegetables to your diet along with whole grains and beans to kick your fiber intake into overdrive. Additionally, supplemental fiber is available in a capsule, a chewable tablet or a powder that you stir into your beverages and drink.
A word to the wise
Start increasing fiber intake slowly. Jumping into a high-fiber diet before your body is accustomed to the additional quantity could cause gastrointestinal distress like gas, diarrhea and more. Fiber can also block the absorption of vitamins, minerals and even medications, so you may wish to stagger your ingestion of these substances. Always check with your doctor when adding a new feature to your normal dietary routine.