Cholesterol Lowering Foods
Lower Cholesterol with Key Nutrients
You’ve heard the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Where high cholesterol is concerned, there’s a lot of truth in that familiar saying – for both men and women. That’s because virtually every bite of food can affect your body, and in particular your cardiovascular system, either positively or adversely.
Watching what you eat, along with weight control and physical activity, is well worth the effort. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute reports lowering your level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “lousy”) cholesterol can reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 40 percent.
For your taste, there’s probably been way too much emphasis on what you can’t eat (baked goodies and snacks containing trans fats) or can only consume in moderate amounts (meats high in saturated fat, high-fat dairy products). Instead, let’s focus on key foods – many with healthful nutrients in common – you can, and should, wholeheartedly embrace to improve your cholesterol profile:
Feel your oats
Starting your day with a bowl of oat bran or oatmeal provides about four grams of soluble, or viscous, fiber. Also found in beans, lentils and other legumes, barley, eggplant, okra, fruits and psyllium, viscous fiber dissolves into a sticky gel that helps lower LDL cholesterol and other lipids (fats) from the bloodstream. The American Dietetic Association recommends 25-30 grams of dietary fiber – both soluble and insoluble – each day; additional servings of viscous fiber will help lower LDL cholesterol levels. If your diet has been lacking fiber, increase your intake gradually to avoid intestinal distress.
Pass the nuts, please
Thanks to an abundance of monounsaturated fats that help lower LDL cholesterol, raise HDL (healthy) cholesterol and keep arteries clog-free, the FDA suggests nuts may reduce the risk of heart disease. As long as allergies are not an issue, moderation is the only word of caution when reaching for walnuts, almonds and other tree nuts. To avoid calorie overload, refrain from eating more than a 10-15 of these high-fiber, cholesterol-free snacks each day.
Good things come in 3s
Among numerous other health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids help fight heart disease on multiple fronts – lowering blood lipids (total and LDL cholesterol, as well as triglycerides), easing high blood pressure levels, and helping prevent arterial blood clotting factors and inflammation. Experts recommend two dietary servings a week of fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon, mackerel and herring; fish oil supplements are also convenient. Excellent plant sources include walnuts and flax seed (also high in soluble fiber, by the way).
Time for tofu?
Cholesterol-free soy protein- whether as edamame, soy milk, tempeh or soy nuts and butters – does your heart good. The American Heart Association concluded in Circulation (Jan. 2006) that soy does not significantly decrease LDL cholesterol; even so, the AHA advises substituting high-fat, high-cholesterol meats and dairy with soy may prove beneficial to heart health. Moreover, the FDA says eating 25g of soy protein daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Israeli researchers who prescribed a daily serving of red or white grapefruit to coronary bypass patients with high cholesterol cite significant decreases in cholesterol levels after 30 days. Fresh red grapefruit proved even more effective than white at lowering cholesterol. No changes occurred in a third patient group, which did not eat grapefruit. (Consult your doctor or pharmacist before increasing your consumption of grapefruit, which is known to interact with certain medications, including those for cholesterol.) Oranges – which, like grapefruit, are high in antioxidants – appear to have a beneficial effect, as well.
Present in small quantities in the cell membranes of many fruits, vegetables, grains and other plants, plant stanols and sterols are “functional foods” – a category of foods that deliver health benefits above and beyond their nutritional value. In the digestive tract, plant stanols and sterols work similar to soluble fiber, inhibiting the absorption of LDL cholesterol. Studies show eating 2 grams of stanols/sterols each day can reduce LDL levels by up to 14 percent. Specially formulated margarines and orange juice are among products currently supplemented with these natural compounds.
A Combined Effort
While adding even one or two of these items to your regular diet is certainly smart, the latest research indicates eating a combination of lipid-lowering foods boosts their effectiveness (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2006). Study participants who successfully adhered to a diet high in viscous fiber, soy protein, almonds and plant sterol margarine for a year saw their LDL cholesterol level drop more than 20 percent – comparable to the results of others in the dietary study who also took a statin drug.
Ideally, we recommend lowering your health risks with lifestyle alternatives rather than medication However, if your cholesterol level is seriously elevated or you have previously had a heart attack, a cholesterol-lowering drug in conjunction with therapeutic changes may be necessary.”