Fiber & Cholesterol: How Fiber Helps Lower Your Cholesterol

Friday, December 15, 2006 - 9:40am

By Katie Clark, MPH, RD

Perhaps you have seen television commercials or heard health professionals extolling the benefits of dietary fiber and its ability to reduce cholesterol. But how does fiber work? Does more fiber in your diet actually lower cholesterol levels?

What causes high cholesterol?

Cholesterol is unique in that your body produces it, yet you also consume it in your diet. As cholesterol is necessary to perform everyday bodily processes, your body instructs your liver to produce it. As a result, it is entirely possible that you could avoid consuming cholesterol, and still register as having high cholesterol. Some people's bodies are simply genetically predisposed to make a lot of cholesterol; it doesn't matter whether they eat a perfect diet or are a healthy weight. Other people get high cholesterol because of poor diet and lifestyle choices.

Fiber helps the body gather and eliminate cholesterol

Dietary fiber binds bile, fatty acids, and blood cholesterol together into a large package of waste. Because it makes stool bulkier, fiber promotes easier bowel movements, and helps transport cholesterol out of your body.

Fiber decreases cholesterol production levels in the liver

Your body does not actually digest dietary fiber. Instead, soluble fiber sits in your large intestine where it is fermented by bacteria. During fermentation, some free fatty acids are produced. The process is not entirely understood, but one of these fatty acids travels to your liver and tells it to produce less cholesterol, resulting in a reduction of total cholesterol levels.

Recommended dietary fiber intake

Regardless of the physiological process for reducing cholesterol; you should increase your dietary fiber intake if you have high cholesterol. Daily requirements for women and men are 25 grams and 38 grams, respectively. Excellent sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, dried peas, lentils, and beans.

Another important dietary approach for cholesterol management is to reduce your saturated fat intake. This means eating less junk food and animal fat, specifically those found in meats and full-fat dairy products.

Ensuring you eat enough fiber

An easy way to meet fiber requirements and lower cholesterol is to split your daily fiber intake evenly into 5 mini-meals. If you eat between 5 to 8 grams of fiber at each of your 3 small meals and 2 snacks, your fiber goals should be easily achievable.