High-fiber fruits lower heart disease risk, study reports

VIENNA, Va.—Eating a couple of apples a day may significantly cut heart disease risk, according to a new study of the health benefits of fiber consumption—suggesting that such high-fiber carbohydrates should be embraced, not avoided, experts say.

To estimate the association between dietary fiber intake and risk of coronary heart disease, researchers evaluated data from 10 prospective cohort studies in the United States and Europe involving 91,058 men and 245,186 women that measured the amount of fiber in participants’ diets over a period of six to 10 years.

Nine of the 10 studies reported an inverse association between fiber consumption and heart disease risk. For every 10 grams of fiber consumed per day, the risk of developing heart disease decreased 14 percent, and the risk of dying from heart disease decreased 27 percent.

Fiber from fruits such as apples appeared to be slightly more protective than cereal fiber, lowering the risk of coronary disease death by 30 percent. Results were similar for men and women, researchers reported.

“Our results suggest that dietary fiber intake during adulthood is inversely associated with coronary heart disease risk,” authors wrote in yesterday’s edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine. “Coronary risk was 10 to 30 percent lower for each 10-gram per day increment.”

The research team was led by Dr. Mark Pereira from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and included Harvard School of Public Health’s Dr. Walt Willett.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. (Source: Arch Int Med, vol. 164 no. 4; pp 370-376)

Researchers did not identify a specific protective mechanism in this study, although fiber has been shown to reduce heart disease risk many ways, such as improving blood lipid profiles, lowering blood pressure and improving insulin sensitivity, the study noted.

Soluble fiber appeared to be slightly more protective than insoluble fiber, although the researchers cautioned those findings should be interpreted cautiously because not all studies estimated soluble vs. insoluble fiber intake.

Apples are one of the richest sources of fruit fiber. One medium, tennis ball-sized apple contains 5 grams of fiber, of both soluble and insoluble types, and one slice of whole-wheat bread contains 2 grams of fiber, according to Nutrition Facts for both products.

These findings make the case for increasing consumption of high-fiber apples and other foods for better health, joining previous research findings about high-fiber foods, the authors noted—and challenging the long-term wisdom of diets that discourage consumption of high-fiber carbohydrates in the process.

“The recommendations to consume a diet that includes an abundance of fiber-rich foods to prevent coronary heart disease are based on a wealth of consistent scientific evidence,” Pereira and his colleagues wrote in the journal.

“Quality of carbohydrates is important,” said Dr. Dianne Hyson, R.D., a professor at Sacramento State University who is considered the nation’s leading authority on apple health benefits research. “These findings indicate that consumers should embrace, not avoid, fiber- and phytonutrient-rich fruits like apples for their better health.”

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