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Oatmeal and Oat Bran continued...

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.

Olive Oil

Although all cooking oils are high in fat, the type of fat makes a difference, Miller says.

Olive oil -- which is high in monounsaturated fat -- seems to help lower bad LDL cholesterol levels without affecting good HDL cholesterol. Diets rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are associated with lower risks of heart disease and stroke. Olive oil is also rich in healthy vitamin E, an antioxidant. Other healthy oils include canola and flaxseed.

The key is not just to add olive oil to your diet. You need to use it instead of less healthy oils higher in saturated and unsaturated fat, Miller says. How much do you need? The FDA recommends using two tablespoons daily as a replacement for less healthy oils.

Should you start drenching everything in olive oil? No. It's still high in calories. Too much will lead to weight gain, says Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of the cardiovascular nutrition research program at Tufts University's Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

Sterols and Stanols in Fortified Foods

We hear a lot about unhealthy food additives. Sterols and stanols are additives in special margarines and other products that help improve cholesterol. They occur naturally in some plants in very small amounts. In the body, they help lower cholesterol by blocking its absorption in the intestines.

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