Alternative Treatments for High Cholesterol
Dietary Approaches to Lowering Cholesterol
Increased consumption of dietary fiber, soy foods, omega-3 fatty acids, and plant compounds similar to cholesterol (plant stanols and sterols) can significantly reduce LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol.
- Fiber: Only plant foods (vegetables, fruits, legumes, unrefined grains) contain dietary fiber. The soluble fiber found in foods such as oat bran, barley, psyllium seeds, flax seed meal, apples, citrus fruits, lentils and beans are particularly effective in lowering total and LDL cholesterol.
- Nuts: Many nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios can reduce cholesterol. According to the FDA, eating a handful ( 1.5 ounces ) of nuts daily can reduce the risk of heart disease. You can replace foods high in saturated fats with nuts and they are a good source of fiber.
- Soybeans: Substituting soybeans or soy protein for other proteins have been shown to prevent coronary heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Soy protein is present in tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yogurt, edamame, soy nuts, and many other food products made from soybeans.
- Phytosterols: Phytosterols (plant sterol and stanol esters) are compounds found in small amounts in foods such as whole grains as well as in many vegetables, fruits, and vegetable oils. They decrease LDL cholesterol, mostly by interfering with the intestinal absorption of cholesterol. Phytosterols can be found in spreads (like the cholesterol-lowering margarines Benecol, Promise, Smart Balance, and Take Control), dressings for salads, and dietary supplements. Additional phytosterol-fortified foods include Minute Maid Heart Wise orange juice, Nature Valley Healthy Heart chewy granola bars, CocoVia chocolates, Rice Dream Heartwise rice drink, and Lifetime low-fat cheese.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also help reduce heart disease and lower triglycerides. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the rate at which the liver produces triglycerides. Omega-3 fatty acids also have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, decrease the growth of plaque in the arteries, and aid in thinning blood. Aim for at least two servings of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and sardines per week. Other dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flax seed and walnuts. Supplement sources include fish oil capsules, flaxseed and flax seed oil. If you are considering taking omega-3 fatty acids, first discuss with your health care provider if omega-3 fatty acid supplements are right for you, especially if you are currently taking blood-thinning medication.
Dietary fiber, nuts, soybeans, and phytosterols decrease cholesterol levels by different mechanisms. Therefore, it is not surprising that the combined dietary intake of these foods and other plant substances along with a low intake of saturated fats is more effective at reducing cholesterol levels than each individual substance alone.
Avoid Trans Fats
Avoid partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated vegetable oils. These man-made oils are sources of trans fatty acids known to increase LDL cholesterol. They lower heart-protecting HDL (good) cholesterol and increase the inflammatory response in the body. You can now find trans fats listed on the Nutrition Facts panel of packaged foods. Minimize consumption of trans fatty acid-containing food.