Millions of Americans who are faithful to low-carbohydrate diets in an attempt to lose weight are missing out on fiber-rich foods that are essential to healthy hearts, experts warn.

"By eating a low-carbohydrate diet, you are (eliminating those foods that may be rich in healthy carbohydrates," says Jeannie Moloo, a Roseville, California, dietitian and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. She says these nutrient-packed foods "lower LDL (the "bad" cholesterol and blood insulin levels. They may also reduce blood clots."

All Carbs Not Created Equal

Weight-conscious individuals continue to turn to low-carb regimens to trim waistlines. But according to nutritionists such as Moloo, they're forgetting that not all carbohydrates are created equal.

"First, there's refined carbohydrates that's where the nutrition has been removed and (manufacturers) have sometimes added sugar to the product-foods like white rice, white bread, cookies," Moloo says. She has no problem with dieters giving up these carbs.

"Refined carbohydrates release their sugar quickly into the blood, causing a dramatic spike in insulin," she says. They are the "worst offenders in terms of raising the risks for cardiovascular disease.

The Importance Of Fiber In Good Carbs

Good carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables and, especially, whole grains, are packed with micronutrients, minerals, antioxidants as well as fiber.

In one study, examining data on the diets of more than 350,000 men and women, researchers found that for every 10 grams of cereal fiber consumed daily, the risk of death from heart disease dropped 25%.

Fiber, the undigested part of any food, is either water-soluble or water-insoluble.

"When it comes to preventing heart disease, the water-soluble form is the one that's been shown to lower cholesterol levels," Moloo says.

"However, the water-insoluble form is important, too, because it may help slow down the digestive process, thereby lowering blood sugar and insulin levels," she adds.

Katherine Tallmadge, a dietitian in Washington, DC, and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says the bran and the germ of fiber-rich foods also contain the vitamins thiamine, niacin and riboflavin, and various minerals.

"In fact, researchers haven't really figured out if it's the fiber or these other phytochemicals that pass on these health benefits," Tallmadge says.

Therefore, just taking a fiber supplement isn't adequate. "It isn't just the fiber that helps us—it's fiber-rich foods. In fact, when they isolate fiber and study it separately, they don't get the same [heart-healthy] result," she adds.

Making Good Choices

Daily servings of good carbohydrates are crucial to maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system, Tallmadge says, but separating the good from the bad at the supermarket isn't always easy.

"It's tricky, because a lot of breads, for example, are called 7-Grain Bread, 'Whole Wheat Bread,' 'Oat Bread,' etc. But if you look on the ingredient list and the first ingredient is wheat flour, that does not mean whole wheat," she explains.

Stick to breads where the label clearly lists whole wheat as the first ingredient, Tallmadge advises.

Moloo suggests looking at the dietary fiber line on the Nutrition Facts label and selecting a bread that has at least 3 grams (g) of fiber per serving.

For fruits and vegetables, the fiber content is pretty much the same whether they're fresh, frozen or canned.

Low-Carb Eaters—Fill Up on Fruits and Vegetables

The American Institute for Cancer Research is reminding people to eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans-a recommendation that seems to have been dismissed during the recent low-carb diet craze.

Most plant foods are high in water and fiber, but low in calories. Therefore, they create a feeling of fullness without the large number of calories found in high-fat foods.

Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans should be major ingredients in any weight-loss strategy.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in