Transcript: Can Oatmeal Reverse Heart Disease?
Fiber continues to be singled out as a nutrient of public health concern. There is a fiber gap in America. These are the minimum recommended daily intakes of fiber for men and women at different age groups; this is how much we’re actually getting. We’re getting only about half the minimum, considered a public health concern for all Americans. Well, not all Americans. Less than 3% meet the recommended minimum, meaning less than 3% of all Americans eat enough plant-based foods–the only place fiber is found–though a nominal 0.1 is thrown in for the meat category, in case someone eats a corndog or nibbles on the garnish.
If even half of the adult population ate three more grams a day, like a quarter-cup of beans, or a bowl of oatmeal, we could save billions in medical costs–and that’s just for constipation. The consumption of plant foods, the consumption of fiber-containing foods, reduces risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and obesity as well.
The first to make this link between fiber intake and killer disease was probably Dr. Hugh Trowell many decades ago. He spent 30 years practicing medicine in Africa, and suspected it was their high consumption of corn, millet, sweet potatoes, greens, and beans that protected them from chronic disease. This got kind of twisted into the so-called fiber hypothesis, but he didn’t think it was the fiber itself, but the high-fiber foods that were so protective. There are hundreds of different things in whole grains besides fiber that can have beneficial effects. For example, yes, the fiber in oatmeal can lower our blood cholesterol levels so less gets stuck in our arteries, but there are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytonutrients in oats that can help prevent atherosclerotic buildup and then help maintain arterial function.
Visionaries like Trowell were not entrapped by the reductionist “simple-minded” focus on dietary fiber, and insisted that the whole plant foods should receive the emphasis. Fiber intake was just kind of a marker for plant food intake. Those with the highest fiber intake, and the lowest cholesterol, were those whose who ate exclusively plant-based diets.
Risk factors like cholesterol are one thing, but can these individual foods actually affect the progression of heart disease? We didn’t know, until this study was published. Hundreds of older women were subjected to coronary angiograms, where you can inject dye into the coronary arteries of the heart to see how wide open they are. They got an angiogram at the beginning of the study, and then one a few years later, all while analyzing their diets. This is what they found. The arteries of women eating less than a serving of whole grains a day significantly narrowed, whereas the arteries of women who ate just a single serving or more also significantly narrowed, but they narrowed less. These were all women with heart disease eating the standard American diet, and so their arteries were progressively clogging shut. Heart disease is the #1 killer of American women, but there was significantly less clogging in the women eating more whole grains, significantly less progression of their atherosclerosis–in fact, almost as much slowing of their disease as they might get taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. Statins can also slow the rate at which our arteries close. But do we want to just slow the rate at which we die from heart disease, or not die from heart disease at all?
A whole foods plant-based diet has been shown to reverse the progression of heart disease, opening arteries back up. Whole grains, like the drugs, can help counter the artery-clogging effects of the rest of the diet. Having oatmeal with bacon and eggs is better than just eating bacon and eggs, but why not stop eating an artery-clogging diet altogether?
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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