Keys to Heart Health
Cardiovascular disease, manifested primarily as heart attacks and stroke, is America’s number one killer, dwarfing all other causes of death, including cancer and diabetes. More than 107 million of us have an unhealthy level of cholesterol, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But, there are easy ways we can take charge of our heart health. The secret is to simply add in eight foods, a fiber supplement and a short walk to our daily routine. Together, they can significantly and quickly lower bad LDL cholesterol levels and decrease risk of developing heart disease. Here’s how:
Eat Oatmeal – Oats are a highly nutritious whole grain filled with a special type of cholesterol-lowering, soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which soaks up cholesterol and pushes it through the digestive system so that it is not absorbed. The fiber in oats also binds up bile acids in the intestine so that they are excreted. This forces the liver to make more bile acids to replenish the lost supply, which leads to lower LDL cholesterol. They also contain a powerful, unique antioxidant, which counteracts the destructive and atherosclerosis-inducing damage of unstable free-radicals.
Eat Almonds – Almonds are chockablock with heart-healthy ingredients such as monounsaturated fat (like olive oil) and fiber. They are one of the best sources of Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that blocks the toxic changes to LDL and helps keep cholesterol from building up in plaque. But, only eat a handful of almonds or any nuts daily, because they are high in calories.
Eat Flaxseeds – Flaxseeds are a wonderful plant source of omega-3 anti-inflammatory fats, a plus in countering the inflammatory disorder atherosclerosis. Two other components of flaxseeds actually target LDL cholesterol: lignan and fiber. Lignans are hormone-like plant chemicals that function as powerful antioxidants and dampen the actions of two key cholesterol-producing enzymes. Be sure to eat only ground flaxseeds, or else their thick coating inhibits digestion.
Eat Beans – A delicious, low fat source of protein, beans are full of heart healthy vitamins and minerals and are one of the richest sources of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils reduce LDL by promoting healthy populations of friendly bacteria in the colon, which ferment the beans, releasing healthful byproducts that travel to the liver and squelch production of cholesterol.
Eat Apples – An apple a day keeps the cardiologist away. They serve up a cholesterol-lowering fiber called pectin. Another ingredient in apples, called polyphenols, functions as a strong antioxidant and prompts the liver to clear LDL cholesterol. Eating the apple skin ensures the highest level of antioxidant intake.
thy medicine be thy food.”
Eat or take Phytosterols – Phytosterols, a plant’s version of cholesterol, are a highly effective means of reducing LDL because they masquerade as cholesterol and are absorbed into the intestinal cells in lieu of cholesterol. Phytosterol-fortified products on the market, which have an excellent safety record, range from orange juice to yogurt. One favored phytosterol supplement is Cholest-Off. The single caveat: Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins may decrease with phytosterol intake. Following the government-advocated “5-a-day” intake of fruits and vegetables offsets this effect.
Eat Soy Protein – Soy foods are low in saturated fat, cholesterol-free and packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Soy is a near-perfect protein choice instead of animal protein. Soy contains isoflavones, hormone-like substances that lower LDL by promoting an increase in uptake of LDL by the liver. Soy also exhibits a strong antioxidant capacity, linked with decreased inflammation of the arteries. Don’t be misled by the bad press soy has received lately. The U.S. government has given soy its stamp of approval as a safe food to help prevent heart disease. Soy is not only a heart-healthy food, it is also associated with reduced risk of cancers. Two thirds of the world’s population eats soy.
Eat Garlic – Garlic is a regular chemical factory, with lots of active ingredients that not only lower LDL, but also function as powerful antioxidants and blood thinners. Garlic lowers LDL by dampening the activity of the main cholesterol-producing enzyme in the liver. Eating as little as a clove a day has been shown to rev up the body’s ability to dissolve blood clots, which can precipitate a heart attack by sealing off plaque-filled arteries.
Take Metamucil – When people think of laxatives, they think about regularity. But the psyllium seed husk fiber in Metamucil is one of nature’s most potent cholesterol-lowering agents. It lowers LDL by promoting bile acid excretion (somewhat like oats) and by preventing the absorption of cholesterol into the body. A healthy digestive tract is a bonus.
Walk – Walking is one of the simplest, safest and least expensive LDL-lowering strategies. Walking just 30 minutes a day protects the heart by increasing the size of LDL particles (bigger is better), decreasing inflammation and targeting dangerous belly fat. Just remember to pick up the pace, because faster is better for health and longevity.
Adopting these 10 simple steps into our day is a proven, effective alternative or complement to prescription medications for lowering cholesterol and preventing heart disease. As Hippocrates counseled long ago, “Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be thy food.”
Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., is a registered dietitian, licensed dietitian/nutritionist and author of Cholesterol Down: 10 simple steps to lower your cholesterol in 4 weeks—without prescription drugs. She’s a nationally recognized nutrition, health and fitness expert, specializing in cardiovascular disease prevention. Visit www.CholesterolDownBook.com or www.DrJanet.com.