Quinoa is a grain high in fiber.

Quinoa is a grain high in fiber. Credit: Quinoa is a grain high in fiber.

February is American Heart Health month, and because heart disease is the leading cause of death among American men and women, claiming more than 600,000 lives annually according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, paying attention to your heart and cardiovascular system is crucial.

One way that you can stay on top of your heart health is by increasing your fiber intake. Fiber helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels in addition to aiding digestion and weight-loss.

"Fiber helps control blood sugar, especially people with diabetes. It helps lower cholesterol," said Keri Glassman, a nutritionist and author with a practice in Manhattan.

Glassman, who is also a spokeswoman for the fiber supplement Konsyl, said that on average, women need 21-25 grams of fiber per day and men need 35-38 grams.
Dr. Felicia Stoler is an NYC-based dietitian and exercise physiologist. She agrees that increasing your fiber intake is one way to keep your cholesterol at a normal level. Stoler says for the most part, being in control of what - and how much - you eat, is all you need.

"We Americans don't appreciate moderation," she said. "Sometimes with heart disease, we take for granted you might be healthy today, but foods you eat now might harm you [in] 20 years."

-- Start with small changes.
"Small changes add up to big changes," said New York City-based dietitian Dr. Felicia Stoler.
-- Pay attention to ingredients. Choose whole foods, not fiber-packed foods, said nutritionist Keri Glassman.
-- Don't avoid fats, just choose the good ones (olive oil, palm fruit oil, walnuts, almonds). "We need fats because they help us feel fuller longer," Stoler said.
-- The same goes with carbohydrates. "Swap rice for quinoa and potato chips for whole grain crackers," Glassman said.
-- Take a fiber supplement before going out."You can't control what you eat in a restaurant, or at a friend's house," Stoler said.
-- Exercise daily. "Your heart's a muscle that needs to be worked out everyday," Stoler said.

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