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Eat More Fiber-rich Foods to Foster Heart Health

The notion that a diet rich in fiber, particularly from whole-grain foods, could prevent heart disease risk dates back to the 1970s. Evidence to support that idea has been piling up ever since.

In 2002, the Institute of Medicine set recommendations for daily fiber intake. Up to age 50, men should eat 38 grams of fiber per day. After age 50, they should aim for 30 grams daily. The corresponding amounts for women are 25 and 21 grams. But most Americans fall woefully short of these goals, consuming only about 16 grams of fiber per day on average.

"As a country, we aren't eating enough fiber," says Dr. Cheryl Clark, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. She is the senior author of a study that confirmed the fiber shortfall in the American diet. The study also pointed to a connection with heart disease. People whose diets are high in fiber are less likely to have problems such as metabolic syndrome, which can be a precursor to diabetes. The condition, which is marked by too much belly fat, high triglycerides, low beneficial HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar, boosts a person's odds of developing diabetes, heart disease, and having a stroke.

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