February 14, 1996
Web posted at: 12:25 a.m. EST
From Reporter Liz Weiss
BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- If you're confused about what to eat for a healthy heart, you're not alone. But now, two studies reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association may guide you in the right direction.
Eating more fiber-rich foods like fruit and whole grain cereal appears to lower the risk of heart disease, according to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health. "Those men in the highest group of fiber had a 35 percent reduction in risk of heart attack compared to the men in the lowest group," says Eric Rimm of the Harvard School of Public Health.
The study involved more than 40,000 men as part of the ongoing Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Participants filled out a questionnaire listing, among other things, their consumption of fruits, vegetables, cereals, and other high-fiber foods.
"Regardless of someone's fat intake, their fiber intake reduced their risk of heart attack," Rimm said.
On average, Americans eat just 11 grams of fiber a day, despite the recommendation to eat 20 to 35 grams. Rimm's study showed that adding just 10 more grams to the diet each day cuts heart attack risk by 20 percent.
Experts suggest reading food labels to help identify the best sources. For example, one slice of whole wheat bread has 4 grams of fiber.
Fiber is not a magic cure-all, experts say, but research has shown that certain types can lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. High-fiber foods are also filling, so you're less likely to overeat at meals.
"I think that fiber should be considered as part of what we consider a healthy lifestyle. That doesn't mean that you can not worry about being overweight and not worrying about smoking. But fiber is one of the many things to lower risk of heart attacks," Rimm says.
And there is good news for java junkies: A similar study involving 90,000 female nurses finds no link between coffee and heart disease.
"In the study, we followed women for over 10 years and in the end, we found no relation between coffee consumption prepared by the usual filter method and risk of heart attack," says Dr. Walter Willet, also from the Harvard School of Public Health.
"Even among women who consumed six cups or more a day, we found no evidence of any increase of risk," Willet says.
But Willet's research also shows that coffee may be bad for your bones; more than four cups a day increases the risk of osteoporosis.
"I think we might want to be a little cautious about overdoing it on coffee like overdoing it on everything," Willet says.
So it seems it's okay to have that cup of coffee for breakfast, but you may want to skip the doughnuts and have a bowl of cereal instead.
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