Fiber protects the heart

If you're a heart patient, the difference between life and death could come down to the difference between white bread and whole grain.

It's true -- because you need fiber for more than just good digestion. You also need it to protect your heart, especially if you've already suffered a heart attack.

Now, new research confirms that heart patients who eat more fiber live longer.

That's right... fiber could save your life, and not in some vague and abstract way, either. For every 10-gram boost in quality fiber, your risk of death from any cause drops by 15 percent, according to the study of more than 4,000 heart attack patients tracked for nearly a decade.

The biggest benefit comes from whole grains. And if you boost your own intake of this healthy source of fiber, your risk of death from any cause plunges by 28 percent, the study in BMJ finds.

This isn't just good advice for heart patients. This is great advice for everyone -- because healthy fiber, especially whole grains, can help make sure you never become a heart patient.

One recent study found that every 10-gram bump in fiber cuts the risk of death from heart disease by 17 percent and death from all causes by 9 percent -- and not just in heart patients.

That's in everyone.

Your body needs fiber for cholesterol control, blood-sugar regulation, hormonal balance and more, which is why a low-fiber diet has been linked to both obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Low fiber will also lead to higher levels of inflammation -- and chronic inflammation is another major disease risk factor.

The Institute of Medicine recommends 30-38 grams of fiber a day for men and 21-25 grams a day for women, but I think you should aim even higher. Shoot for between 40 and 50 grams a day.

The best sources of fiber include apples, bananas, berries, beans, artichokes and broccoli. You'll also find fiber in nuts and seeds, and of course those whole grains I mentioned earlier.

Just be aware of the fact that many of the supermarket products that scream "whole grain" on the label aren't whole grain at all.

Read the fine print, and you'll find they're simply "made with whole grains" but contain shockingly low amounts of actual whole grain, and high levels of junk ingredients you don't need.

Look for fresh, natural 100 percent whole-grain products instead.