The biggest killer in America is cardiovascular disease, and mostly in the form of heart attacks and strokes. The death toll each year dwarfs deaths from all types of cancer. A major risk factor for cardiovascular disease is high cholesterol, but about 100 million of Americans suffer from unhealthy cholesterol levels.
Besides drugs, what can we do to lower our ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol level? For answers, we asked nationally recognized expert Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and author of Cholesterol Down: 10 Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in 4 Weeks—Without Prescription Drugs and Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease.
Dr. Janet gave us these actionable steps and tips. With each, she also gave us in-depth explanations so that we know exactly how we are helping our bodies. She encourages us to:
“Take charge of your own health, add in these 10 simple steps to your day as an effective alternative or complement to prescription medications for lowering cholesterol and preventing heart disease.”
Step 1: Eat oatmeal.
Oats are a highly nutritious whole grain that is filled with a special type of 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 acids to replenish the lost supply which leads to lower LDL cholesterol. What’s more, oats contain a powerful type of antioxidant unique only to oats. Antioxidants counteract the destructive and atherosclerosis-inducing damage of dangerous free-radicals.
Step 2: Eat Almonds.
Almonds are chock full of all kinds of heart-healthy ingredients such as monounsaturated fat (like olive oil) and fiber. Almonds are one of the best sources of Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that blocks the toxic changes to the LDL particle that predispose them to building up in plaque. Just make sure though that you only eat a handful a day as almonds (like all nuts) are very high in calories. Remember, a little goes a long way!
Step 3: Eat Flaxseeds.
Who knew that these tiny, glossy, reddish-brown seeds could provide such tremendous health benefits? Flaxseeds are a wonderful plant source of omega-3 or anti-inflammatory fats. 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, it is two other components of flaxseeds that target 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. Just make sure to grind up the flaxseeds before eating them as the body can not digest them fully due to their thick coating.
Step 4: Take Metamucil.
When people think laxatives, they think regularity. But 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 promotes a healthy digestive tract too? Psyllium husk lowers LDL by promoting bile acid excretion (like oats) and by preventing the absorption of cholesterol into the body.
Step 5: Eat 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. A delicious, low fat source of protein, 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 Apples.
An apple a day keeps the cardiologist away! Apples contain another type of cholesterol-lowering fiber called pectin. Another ingredient in apples, called polyphenols, functions as a strong antioxidant and also prompts the liver to increase clearance of LDL cholesterol. Make sure to eat the skin as it contains the highest level of antioxidants.
Step 7: Eat Phytosterols.
Phytosterols are a plant’s version of cholesterol and are a highly effective means of reducing LDL plus have an excellent safety record. Phytosterols masquerade as cholesterol and are absorbed into the intestinal cells in lieu of cholesterol. There are plenty of phytosterol-fortified products on the market such as margarine, OJ or yogurt. You can also pop the pills, Cholest-OFF is a popular brand. (Aime for 2-3 grams a day spread across three meals.) One caveat, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins may decrease. So, just make sure to get in the government-advocated “5-a-day” number of fruits and vegetables to counterbalance this effect.
Step 8: Eat Soy Protein.
Soy foods are low in saturated fat, cholesterol-free, filled with vitamins, minerals and fiber and are as good as it gets for a perfect 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. Plus, if you eat soy in place of animal protein, you automatically lower your intake of 2 potent cholesterol-raising substances: cholesterol and saturated fat.
Step 9: Eat Garlic.
Vampires hate it, but the heart loves garlic! 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.