Choosing Cholesterol- Lowering Foods
Are there certain kinds of foods a person can eat to help lower their cholesterol?
What you eat can actually play a huge role in lowering your cholesterol, and for many, cholesterol lowering foods may even eliminate the need for cholesterol-lowering medication.
Know Your Numbers
As you may already know, your cholesterol level is the amount of fat in your blood. If it's too high, you're at a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Ideally, you want your total cholesterol reading (that includes your LDL and HDL cholesterol) to be below 200, and your "bad" LDL cholesterol below 129- less if you're at risk for heart disease. If your total level hits between 200 and 239, or your LDL reaches 130- 159 you're considered borderline high. And if your total is above 240, or your LDL is over 160, you have high cholesterol.
On the other hand, a higher number is better when it comes to the "good" HDL cholesterol. Most men range between 40 and 50 HDL, and women range between 50 and 60. Anything below 40 for men and 50 for women is too low, and anything above 50 for men and 60 for women is great, because it provides extra protection against heart disease.
Lots of research over the past few years has shown that certain foods can help lower your LDL cholesterol and/or boost your HDL. These include:
Oatmeal and oat bran. Loaded with soluble fiber, oatmeal or oat bran is a great way to start the day and shave five percent off your LDL. Five to 10 grams per day are recommended. Other good sources for soluble fiber are apples, pears, prunes, citrus fruits, kidney and lima beans, barley, psyllium, carrots, broccoli and brussels sprouts.
Nuts. Studies have also shown that a daily dose of walnuts and almonds can lower your LDL by 10 percent, and raise your HDL by as much as 20 percent. Peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans, some pine nuts and pistachios have also been shown to lower cholesterol. But be careful. Nuts are high in calories, so a handful (no more than 2 ounces) will do. The best way to add nuts to your diet is to substitute them for foods that are high in saturated fats like cheese and meat. That way you're gaining the benefits of nuts without adding more calories.
Sterols and stanols. These are substances found in plants that help prevent cholesterol from being absorbed into your bloodstream. A recommended dose of two grams per day can help knock 10 percent off your bad cholesterol level. The best way to get these substances is to consume storebought foods that are fortified with sterols or stanols, including certain orange juices, yogurts, breads, cereals, granola bars, cooking oils, salad dressings, margarine spreads and more. Check the labels to find products that contain sterols or stanols and watch out for high calories.
Fish. Rich with omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish (mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, salmon and albacore tuna) eaten a few times a week can help boost your good HDL cholesterol by as much as 10 percent, not to mention lower your triglycerides and blood pressure, and reduce inflammation. If you don't like fish, other food sources that provide omega-3s are walnuts, soybeans, flaxseed and canola oil. You can also take a fish oil supplement.
Olive oil. Olive oil contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower your LDL without affecting your HDL. A good way to work olive oil into your diet is to substitute it for butter or other cooking oils, or mix it with vinegar as a salad dressing. About two tablespoons a day are recommended.
Additional lifestyle tips that can help lower LDL and raise HDL include reducing the saturated fats (found in fatty meats, butter and whole dairy products) and trans fats (found in storebought cookies, cakes, crackers and many fried foods like french fries) in your diet; losing excess weight (even five to 10 pounds can make a difference); exercising regularly (at least 30 minutes, five days per week); quitting smoking; and drinking limited amounts of alcohol (no more than one drink per day for women and two for men).
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.
The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.