Cardiovascular disease, primarily heart attacks and stroke, is the #1 killer of American men and women and continues to occur in epidemic proportions, dwarfing all other causes of death including all types of cancer and diabetes). Here is an easy way to take charge of your heart health. Simply adding in 9 foods and a short walk to your day can significantly and quickly lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol level and decrease your risk of developing heart disease. Here's how:
Step 1: Eat oatmeal which contains a cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan 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 they are excreted. This forces the liver to make more bile which helps lower LDL cholesterol. Oats also contain a powerful type of antioxidant unique only to oats which counteracts the destructive and atherosclerosis-inducing damage of dangerous free-radicals.
Step 2: Eat almonds, chock full of all kinds of heart-healthy ingredients like monounsaturated fat and fiber. Almonds are one of the best sources of Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that blocks the toxic changes to LDL particles that predispose them to building up in plaque. Just make sure though that you only eat a handful a day since they, like all nuts, are very high in calories.
Step 3: Eat flaxseeds, a wonderful plant source of omega-3, an anti-inflammatory fat. Considering that atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disorder, including more omega-3 fats in your diet is a smart move for the prevention of heart disease. But when it comes to specifically lowering LDL, there are two other components of flaxseeds that target cholesterol: lignan and fiber. Lignans are hormone-like plant chemicals that dampen the actions of two key cholesterol-producing enzymes. Just grind up the flaxseeds before eating them as the body can not digest the seeds' tough outer shell.
Step 4: Take Metamucil. Did you know that the special kind of fiber in Metamucil, psyllium husk, is one of the most potent cholesterol-lowering agents there is? Plus, it promotes a healthy digestive tract. Psyllium husk lowers LDL by promoting bile acid excretion (like oats) and by preventing the absorption of cholesterol into the body.
Step 5: Eat more beans. Beans tend to be overlooked in the typical American diet which is unfortunate because beans are one of the best foods you can eat to protect your heart. Beans are full of heart-healthy vitamins, minerals and are one of the richest sources of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. Legumes (beans, peas and lentils) reduce LDL by promoting the health of friendly bacteria in the colon. The bacteria ferment the beans, releasing healthful byproducts that travel to the liver and squelch the production of cholesterol.
Step 6: Eat more apples. An apple a day keeps the cardiologist away! Apples contain a cholesterol-lowering fiber called pectin. Another ingredient in apples, called polyphenols, functions as a strong antioxidant and also prompts the liver to clear LDL cholesterol from the body. Make sure to eat the skin as it contains the highest level of antioxidants.
Step 7: Eat Plant-Based "Butter" Spreads containing Phytosterols which are a plant's version of cholesterol. Phytosterols are highly effective in reducing LDL plus they have an excellent safety record. Phytosterols masquerade as cholesterol and are absorbed into the intestinal cells in lieu of cholesterol. There are plenty of other phytosterol-fortified products on the market such as OJ and yogurt. One caveat, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins may decrease. So, just make get your "5-a-day" number of fruits and vegetables to counterbalance this effect.
Step 8: Eat more soy, a perfect protein that is low in saturated fat, is cholesterol-free and is filled with vitamins, minerals and. Soy contains isoflavones, hormone-like substances that lower LDL by increasing LDL uptake by the liver. Soy also exhibits a strong antioxidant capacity, linked with decreased inflammation of the arteries. Plus, if you eat soy in place of animal protein, you automatically lower 2 potent cholesterol-raising substances: cholesterol and saturated fat.
Step 9: Eat Garlic. Vampires hate it, but the heart loves it! Garlic is a regular chemical factory with lots of active ingredients that not only lower LDL but also function as a powerful antioxidant and blood thinner. 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 bodies ability to dissolve blood clots. A blood clot sealing off a plaque-filled artery is often the final lethal step in a heart attack.
Step 10: Walk. Walking is one of the simplest, safest and least expensive LDL-lowering strategies there is. Walking just 30 minutes a day protects your heart by increasing the size of the LDL particle (bigger is better), decreasing inflammation and targeting dangerous belly fat. Just remember to pick up the pace as faster is better for health and longevity.
Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN is author of the new book, "Cholesterol Down: Ten Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in Four Weeks Without Prescription Drugs (Random House/Crown Publishing; 2006; $13.95). Dr. Brill is a leading diet and nutrition author, educator and practitioner. She consults for the health and fitness industry specializing in cardiovascular disease prevention. For more info on her book, please visit: www.CholesterolDownBook.com or email her at Queries@CholesterolDownBook.com.