Could you lower cholesterol levels by eating a bowl of oatmeal in the morning and a handful of nuts in the afternoon? It's certainly possible.
"Dietary changes can have powerful effects on cholesterol levels," says Edgar R. Miller III, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University. That's true even if you don't lose weight or exercise more, he says -- although it's better to do those things as well.
Reducing the amount of unhealthy fats you eat is a way to lower cholesterol. But it's not all about subtraction. Adding foods to your diet -- such as oatmeal and nuts as well as olive oil, fatty fish, and foods fortified with sterols and stanols -- can help lower unhealthy LDL levels and triglycerides.
Here are the facts about super foods that lower cholesterol and boost heart health.
Tuna, salmon, trout, sardines, herring, and other fatty fish don't seem to have an impact on bad LDL cholesterol. They do lower triglycerides -- another form of fat in the blood that's measured by cholesterol tests -- by 20% to 50%. They also seem to boost good HDL cholesterol slightly and lower the risk of heart disease.
However, eating too much fatty fish could cause you to gain weight. The benefits also depend on how you prepare the fish. Canned tuna added to a salad is good. Canned tuna immersed in full-fat mayonnaise is not.
Many nuts -- such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachios -- seem to help lower triglycerides. Like fatty fish, they contain substances that are converted to the omega-3 fatty acids known as EPA and DHA. They're also a source of fiber. According to the FDA, eating 1.5 ounces of nuts daily is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Nuts are a great snack or topping for salads, cereal, and yogurt. Stick to a handful because they are high in calories.
Oatmeal and Oat Bran
Substantial evidence shows that the soluble fiber in oatmeal and oat bran helps lower cholesterol levels. Although any whole grain is good for cholesterol, oats have the highest levels of soluble fiber.
How does the fiber in oatmeal help? Some think that, as soluble fiber becomes a gel in your intestines, it sticks to cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed. Miller believes that the benefit has a simpler explanation: Fiber fills you up, and when you're full, you're not eating other, less healthy foods.
One cup of oatmeal typically contains four grams of fiber -- about 15% of the fiber most women need, and 10% of the fiber most men need. Consider a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and then sprinkle oatmeal onto other foods throughout the day. You can also use oatmeal in baking.
Still, oatmeal isn’t always healthy. If you add a cup of cream to your oatmeal or take in all of your oatmeal in cookie form, you're eating saturated fat with your fiber. And that's not helping your cholesterol levels.