These tasty nuts are a heart-healthy superfood, as they not only help lower cholesterol but lower blood pressure, too.
Resident Medical Authority: J. E. Williams, OMD, FAAIM
In a previous blog, I wrote that getting your total cholesterol below 200 mg/dL is good and below 165 mg/dL is better. But too low, less than 135 mg/dL, is not healthy. I wrote that strong HDL and low LDL is more important, and balance with optimal ratios is the key to lipid health. We learned that high fat and sugar diets and sedentary lifestyle is the primary cause of high cholesterol and imbalanced lipid ratios, and not a deficiency of Lipitor. And, most agree with the accepted wisdom that a plant-based, high-fiber diet of fresh whole foods and regular exercise restores lipid health. From my clinical experience, I find that a strict vegan diet, as long as it’s also low in vegetable oils, which most are, can dramatically lower total cholesterol and LDL, but it may lower them too much and drag heart-protective HDL down with them. Once again, balance is the key.
Now, let’s look at five common plant-based foods that help you eat your way to lower cholesterol and improve overall health.
Can a bowl of oatmeal help lower your cholesterol? Oatmeal, oat bran and high-fiber foods with oats like granola contain soluble fiber, which reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol. Soluble fiber inhibits the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Five to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber a day decreases your total cholesterol and LDL. Eating 1½ cups of cooked oatmeal provides 6 grams of fiber. But daily oatmeal can get boring, so mix it up a little. Try steel-cut oatmeal or cold cereal made with oatmeal or oat bran, different types of granola and healthy oatmeal bars.
The cis-unsaturated lipid content of hazelnuts, as well as the presence of dietary fiber, plant protein, phytosterols, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other bioactive substances, is thought to be responsible for their cardio-protective properties. They also provide a healthy type of natural vitamin E. All types of hazelnuts seem to work on improving lipid profile. As little as 30 grams of hazelnuts daily can reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease by 10-15%.
These tasty nuts not only help lower cholesterol, they also lower blood pressure. About 81 percent of the total calories of walnuts are derived from healthy fats accounting for 58 percent of their weight. Walnut fat is similar to that of commonly used oils from grains and seeds. The ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fat in walnuts is 7.1, one of the highest among naturally-occurring foods. This makes for a heart-healthy superfood. Eating about a handful (1.5 ounces, or 42.5 grams) a day may help reduce your risk of heart disease. Make sure your nuts are organic, raw or slightly roasted without any added salt or other ingredients. Remember, all nuts are high in calories, so a handful will do. Avoid gaining weight from eating too many nuts.
A favorite fruit for almost every one, apples contain a variety of healthy chemicals including polyphenols, pectin, and fiber. Polyphenols and soluble fiber are found in a variety of other fruits and vegetables, such as grapes, berries, and peppers. Pectin is a complex carbohydrate and soluble fiber that is found in many fruits, including apples. These compounds possess a variety of healthy benefits, such as lowering cancer risk (polyphenols), aiding in digestive health (fiber and pectin), and helping to lower cholesterol levels. One or two apples as day is enough, and apple cider vinegar and fresh organic apple juice is also beneficial. Researchers found that taking pectin, polyphenols, and fiber supplements with your apple (or apple juice) maximized the cholesterol lowering effect.
5. Non-GMO Soy
A number of studies show soy protein can lower LDL levels and triglycerides without lowering “good” HDL cholesterol. Soybeans have good fatty acids. They are low in saturated fat and contain mostly polyunsaturated fatty acids in particular linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3). Soy protein consumption may decrease LDL levels by as much as 13%, reduce triglycerides by about 10%, and increase HDL by 3%. The improvement in lipid levels seems to be most efficient when soy intake is spread throughout the day. There is a lot of conflicting information that raises concerns about dietary soy products, but remember that soy in the form of tofu and other preparations has been a staple in the Asian diet for thousands of years. Just don’t over eat soy, use small amounts regularly and spread out in your daily diet, and if you’re allergic to soy, don’t use it. (Always make sure it is certified organic as well.)
Bottom Line: A healthy plant-based, balanced diet plays an important role in lipid health and managing cardiovascular risk. Vegetarianism is clearly beneficial for heart health. When actively working to get your cholesterol down and improve lipid ratios, include the five most important foods for lowering cholesterol.
[Kevin’s Note: Soy can be mildly estogenic for some people. This can be a positive or a negative for the individual, so please be sure to monitor your blood tests and work with a practitioner to determine what is right for you. Don’t rely solely on information that may or may not be true for your specific bio-individuality.]
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