Benefits of oats...a water-soluble fiber

Horse Sense

If you eat like a horse, your heart just might stay as strong as a champion thoroughbred.

According to a new study from US Department of Agriculture researchers at Tufts University, compounds in oats called avenanthramides significantly suppress the types of molecules that make blood cells stick to artery walls, causing the inflammation that leads to atherosclerosis.

For HSI members, it certainly isn’t news that dietary fiber (such as steel-cut oatmeal) is good for you. In fact, low fiber intake has long been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and a variety of cancers (including breast and colon cancers). But if you’ve been eating lots of whole wheat products to help the digestive tract move things along, you may be missing out on the important benefits of soluble fiber.

The water way

Dietary fibers are classified as either water-soluble (such as oats) or insoluble (such as whole wheat). And because soluble fibers have been shown to support cardiovascular health, a team of researchers at Tulane University studied the dietary and medical records of nearly 10,000 subjects enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study (NHEFS) looking for correlations between soluble fiber intake and coronary heart disease (CHD).

All subjects were disease-free when the study began. During an average follow-up period of 19 years, 1,843 cases of CHD were recorded. Examination of the dietary records showed that subjects with the highest intake of insoluble fiber (approximately 21 grams per day) had about 12 percent lower risk of developing CHD as those with the lowest intake (approximately 6 grams per day).

When the same records were compared for water-soluble fiber intake, subjects with the highest intake of this fiber (approximately 6 grams per day) had a 15 percent lower risk of developing CHD, compared to those with the lowest intake (less than one gram per day).

Fruit gets results

Another recent study among almost 1,000 heart patients in Milan, Italy, produced conclusions similar to the Tulane study.

Dietary factors were assessed in interviews that showed that higher fiber intake reduced the risk of heart attack by well over 25 percent. But among those who had the highest intake of fruit and water-soluble fiber, heart attack risk was reduced by an impressive 36 percent.

One surprising fact emerged from the collected data: Those with the highest intake of cereal fiber actually increased their heart attack risk by more than 10 percent. This was attributed to the fact that the sources of this type of fiber appeared to be refined grains. It’s no secret to HSI members that many food products claim to be “whole grain” or “whole wheat,” but actually contain very little of either.

Go to the source

Most people don’t eat enough unrefined, water-soluble fiber to produce the positive results shown in the Milan and Tulane studies. But good quality soluble fiber is easy to come by when a little care is taken to find unrefined sources of these foods:

* Fruits; especially oranges, peaches, apples, and grapes
* Vegetables; especially carrots, squash, and corn
* Nuts and seeds (in particular, psyllium seeds)
* Legumes; including peanuts, lentils, peas, and kidney, black, and pinto beans
* Oats and barley

Some people add fiber supplements to their diets, but William Campbell Douglass, M.D., has warned against using these supplements and eating fiber-enriched food, stating that the total effect they may have on the human body is still unknown and potentially dangerous. Dr. Douglass compares fiber-enriched foods to trying to make a silk purse out of a sows ear, noting that, “adding fiber to foods with refined carbohydrates and artery clogging vegetable fats isn’t going to make these already unhealthy foods any less bad for you.”

Exactly so. Especially when it’s so easy to find plenty of water-soluble fiber foods in your neighborhood grocery store.

“Oats May Keep Arteries Out of Sticky Situations” Agricultural Research, June 2004,
“Dietary Fiber Intake and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in US Men and Women” Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 163, No. 16, 9/8/03,
“Fibre-Rich Diet Proves Good for Heart”, 9/10/03,
“Which Fibre is Most Healthy?”, 3/13/03,
“Fiber Fibs” William Campbell Douglass, M.D., Daily Dose, 2/18/03