Cholesterol-laden plaque can gradually clog blood vessels, preventing blood flow to the heart, brain, and muscles and causing heart attacks and strokes. Help protect your blood vessels from plaque buildup by making lifestyle changes that wield a lot of power.
Smart Fat and Fiber Choices
Given that two thirds of American adults are overweight, it’s clear that what most people are doing isn’t working. Eating healthy fats and more fiber is essential to controlling both cholesterol and weight.
You want to limit the saturated fat that contributes to high cholesterol numbers, says Karla P. Shelnutt, PhD, RD, of the University of Florida.
“Trans fats [partially hydrogenated fats] are particularly harmful, so check food labels and avoid them,” Shelnutt says. “We’re still finding trans fats being used in restaurants and fast-food places, so prepare your own foods as much as possible.
“Aim to get more monounsaturated fats, like olive oil and canola oils, and omega-3 fatty acids [polyunsaturated fats] in your diet,” she adds. “These fats decrease inflammation and cut risk for cardiac disease.” Foods rich in omega-3s include walnuts, flaxseed oil, and salmon. Eat a small handful of nuts each day, have fish several times a week, eat cereals made with flax, sprinkle ground flax over yogurt, or add flax meal to your favorite baked goods.
Another weapon against runaway cholesterol, says Shelnutt, is phytosterols, also called sterols and stanols, which naturally occur in many foods. They block cholesterol absorption and can be a great part of your healthy eating plan. Look for them in products such as BENECOL Light Spread, Minute Maid Heart Wise orange juice, and CocoaVia chocolate bars.
Fish oil also seems to help change plaque composition so that it’s less likely to cause clogging. Studies show that fish and flaxseed oils can actually increase the level of “good” cholesterol (HDL) and reduce “bad” cholesterol (LDL). “If you’re going to take supplements, seek a pharmaceutical-grade oil that has been certified by the United States Pharmacopeia,” says Shelnutt. As with any supplement or drug, there can be side effects, such as the blood-thinning action of fish oil. Always check with your doctor first.
“Soluble fiber specifically affects cholesterol levels, blocking dietary cholesterol and fat from being absorbed in the intestines,” Shelnutt continues. “Both soluble and insoluble fiber are very good for your overall health, and you can now buy supplements of both kinds.”
Foods rich in soluble fiber include oats, barley, soybeans, dried beans and peas, psyllium seeds, oranges, and grapefruits. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have varying degrees of both fibers, and their antioxidants and phytochemicals are very beneficial.
Whole grains are also helpful. Since they’re absorbed more slowly than...