Heart-Healthy Foods and Supplements Show Promise To Keep Cholesterol In Check
Victoria Shanta Retelny, R.D.
A diet that's low in animal fats, and high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes has been linked with protecting the heart, but particular foods and nutrients offer special promise for keeping cholesterol levels in check.
"All food is functional, but some foods have positive health benefits beyond basic nutrition," explains
Since heart disease is a major public health concern (almost 50 percent of American adults have high cholesterol levels over 200 mg/dL, a major risk for heart disease), the
EN takes a closer look at functional foods and supplements linked with heart health:
Oats, barley and psyllium husk all contain soluble fiber, which forms a gel-like substance in your intestines and binds with excess cholesterol to help rid it from your body. Because of this, the
Omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish, krill (tiny shrimp-like crustaceans), and algae oil all contain omega-3 fats, which have been praised for their ability to lower triglycerides and raise HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.
Blake explains that if you eat more fish, you displace the amount of meat you eat, thus lowering the amount of unhealthy saturated fats in your diet. Although the
Keep in mind that dietary supplements are not approved for safety or effectiveness by any government organization. In fact, a recent review by
Plant stanols and sterols.
Plants have powerful compounds called plant stanols and sterols that block the absorption of cholesterol from the intestines. Studies reveal that 2 g per day can lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol by 5 to 15 percent within weeks. Although fruits and vegetables are a great source, you'd need to eat a lot of them to see results, however. Fortified products, such as Benecol or Take Control margarine and orange juice, are available.
As far as plant stanols/sterols supplements,
From the soybean comes a powerful protein that has proven beneficial in lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, while raising HDL cholesterol. The
Red yeast rice.
Red yeast rice contains a natural, cholesterol-lowering compound called monacolin-K, also known as lovastatin, the same substance found in prescription statin drugs. Studies have shown that taking red yeast rice daily for two to three months lowers total and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
In a 2008 study in
Unfortunately, there is a big problem with lack of uniformity in types and amounts of monacolins found in red yeast rice supplements. In fact,
Also known as Vitamin B3, niacin has shown to be effective at improving cholesterol levels, but in high supplemental doses, ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 mg per day. The catch: At this level niacin may be harmful to the liver. While it won't hurt to eat niacin-rich foods, like peanuts, brown rice, fish and meat, be aware that these sources probably won't contribute enough niacin to affect cholesterol levels.
This flavorful plant food may have medicinal properties, especially when it comes to heart health. Fresh, dried or powdered garlic may slow hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. Garlic has shown short-term reductions in total cholesterol by four to 12 percent, as well as triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.
Although garlic has been shown to be beneficial for cholesterol levels, don't put your faith in just one food. Some research has shown that garlic by itself may not bring down cholesterol levels significantly. Yet, it can't hurt to season your food with the delicious flavors of garlic. Keep in mind that while even high doses of garlic appear to be safe, garlic supplements may interact with medications, such as birth control pills, cyclosporine, protease inhibitors and blood thinners like Coumadin.
Consult your health care provider before taking any dietary supplements.
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