Oatmeal, that sturdy breakfast food from your grandmother's kitchen, has a
lot going for it. Not only is it a fine way to start the day, but it can also
really bring down your bad LDLcholesterol levels without lowering your good
cholesterol. The same goes for oat bran, which is in some cereals, baked goods,
and other products.
If you've just been diagnosed with high cholesterol, you may be worried.
After all, along with your age, genes, and other factors, high cholesterol is a
major contributor to cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. But
while you can't turn back the clock or yank out unhealthy genes from your DNA,
you can change your cholesterol numbers. That's because high cholesterol
"We have good, safe treatments for high cholesterol," says Adolph
Hutter, MD, a cardiologist at Massachusetts...
Oatmeal is full of soluble fiber, which we know lowers LDL levels. Experts
aren't exactly sure how, but they have some ideas. When you digest fiber, it
becomes gooey. Researchers think that when it's in your intestines, it sticks
to cholesterol and stops it from being absorbed. So instead of getting that
cholesterol into your system -- and your arteries -- you simply get rid of it
What's the Evidence?
There's plenty of evidence that eating oatmeal lowers cholesterol levels.
It's such a well-accepted belief that the FDA gave it the status of a
"health claim" in 1997. This allows manufacturers to advertise the
heart-healthy benefits on boxes of oatmeal and other products.
Some studies have shown that oats,
when combined with other cholesterol-lowering foods, can have a big effect on
cholesterol levels. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition, researchers tested cholesterol-lowering drugs against
cholesterol-lowering foods in a group of thirty-four adults with high
cholesterol. Oat products were among the chosen foods. The results were
striking. The diet lowered cholesterol levels about as well as cholesterol
Getting Oatmeal Into Your Diet
It's fairly simple to work oatmeal into your meal plan. Start with the
obvious: enjoy hot oatmeal in the morning.
"Oatmeal makes a filling, healthy breakfast," says Ruth Frechman,
RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. She suggests that you
add bananas or walnuts. If you're not so keen on hot oatmeal, try a cold cereal
that's made from oat bran.
But oatmeal isn't only for breakfast. "Ground oatmeal can be
added to any food," Frechman tells WebMD. You can add it to soups and
casseroles. You can add some to breadcrumbs when you coat food for cooking. You
can also add it to many recipes for baked foods. For instance, the American
Dietetic Association suggests swapping one-third of the flour in recipes with
quick or old-fashioned oats.
Do keep in mind that not everything with "oatmeal" in the name will
be good for you. For instance, some so-called oatmeal cookies might contain
very little oatmeal and lots of fat and sugar. So pay attention to the label.
Look to see how much soluble fiber is in the ingredients.
How Much Do You Need?
Most adults should get at least 25
grams of fiber a day. But the average Americans only eats about 15 grams of
dietary fiber a day. So you should aim to double or triple your intake by
consciously adding soluble fiber to foods.
There are 3 grams of soluble fiber in 1.5 cups of oatmeal -- enough to lower
your cholesterol, according to the American Dietetic Association. It may be a
bit much for breakfast, so just add in oatmeal or bran to dishes at other times
of the day.
SOURCES: Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD, spokeswoman,
American Dietetic Association. Ruth Frechman, RD, Los Angeles; spokeswoman,
American Dietetic Association. Keecha Harris, DrPH, RD, spokeswoman, American
Dietetic Association. FDA web site. American Dietetic Association web site.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute web site. American Heart Association
web site. Jenkins, D. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 2005;
vol 81:pp 380-87. Jenkins, D. Journal of the American Medical Association, July
23-30, 2003; vol 290: pp 502-510.