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The Top 4 Superfoods That Can Lower Your Cholesterol

Do These Superfoods Live Up To The Hype Of Being "Heart Healthy"?

By Katherine Lee

Updated October 04, 2008

(LifeWire) - Superfoods are healthy foods that can have many health benefits - including lowering your cholesterol.

You may know what foods to avoid to keep your levels of "bad cholesterol" in check -- no mounds of butter on your bread, or ice cream for dessert every night -- but what are some foods you should be including in your diet to ensure a healthy heart? Here are the top "superfoods" that can lower your cholesterol:

Oats

Many studies have found that increasing the dietary intake of oat products -- as well as legumes and other high-fiber foods -- can play a significant role in decreasing "bad cholesterol" (LDL) levels. Soluble fiber seems to help reduce LDL levels by grabbing onto the cholesterol and eliminating it from the body through the digestive system. Some excellent fiber-rich choices besides oatmeal and oat bran include beans, barley, apples and prunes.

The great news is that it doesn't take 10 servings of a fiber-rich food to do your heart good. One USDA study concluded that eating as little as one-half cup of cooked dry beans per day helped lower total cholesterol levels of the study participants.

Sterol- and Stanol-fortified Foods

Recent research indicates that sterols and stanols -- natural substances found in many plants, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds -- can significantly reduce LDL levels by blocking cholesterol absorption and preventing it from getting into the bloodstream.

One study by researchers at the University of California, Davis found that people who included twice-daily servings of sterol-fortified orange juice in their diet experienced, on average, a 9% decrease in LDL levels and an average 12% reduction in C-reactive protein levels, another key indicator of heart disease risk.

Sterols and stanols are naturally found in small amounts in many plants. In addition, a slew of new products fortified with sterols or stanols -- everything from milk to snack bars -- can now be found on grocery shelves.

But the American Heart Association (AHA) warns against consuming too much -- that is, slathering sterol-fortified spreads onto your food, or downing too many glasses of fortified juices -- without cutting back on other sources of fat. Doing so could lead to excess calorie consumption. For people who have a history of heart disease or elevated LDL levels, the AHA recommends talking with a doctor before taking sterol or stanol supplements.

Fatty Fish

Wild salmon, sardines and anchovies are all rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Considerable research links these "healthy fats" to various health benefits. They not only reduce LDL levels, but they help lower high blood pressure and cut cardiovascular risk. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also raise levels of "good cholesterol" (HDL), which helps ferry bad cholesterol to the liver, where it can be eliminated from the body.

Given these benefits, it's no wonder that the AHA recommends that healthy adults with no history of heart disease should consume at least two servings of baked or grilled fatty fish each week. As for those who don't eat fish, try soybeans, seeds or nuts. A study in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association reported that omega-3 fatty acids from nuts (such as walnuts) and seeds (such as flaxseed) had as much impact on blood pressure as omega-3 fatty acids from fish. But watch the intake of nuts, which are high in calories. Just a handful a day is enough to provide benefits for the heart.

Olive Oil

Research has also shown that it's important to cut down on saturated fat and trans fats. Trans fats are listed in the "nutrition facts" on food labels; they can also be found in the product's list of ingredients, marked as "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" fats or oils.

Try to replace these unhealthy fats with healthier monounsaturated fats, as found in extra virgin olive oil, as well as canola oil, avocados, peanuts and tree nuts. Doing so can help lower your LDL and raise your HDL levels.

But even "good" fats should be eaten in moderation because all types of fat contain more than twice the calories of proteins or carbohydrates. The AHA recommends choosing fats and oils that contain less than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.

Sources:

Devaraj, S., I. Jialal, and S. Vega-López. "Plant Sterol-Fortified Orange Juice Effectively Lowers Cholesterol Levels in Mildly Hypercholesterolemic Healthy Individuals." Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 24:3(2003): e25-8. 15 Sep. 2008 <http://atvb.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/24/3/e25?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=%22Plant+sterol-fortified+orange+juice+effectively+lowers+cholesterol+levels+in+mi&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT>.



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LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Katherine Lee is a NYC-based freelance writer who specializes in health, environment and parenting.

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