If you’re among the one in three North Americans walking around with higher-than-healthy levels of lousy LDL cholesterol (more than 100 mg/dL or 2.6 mmol/L), here’s a great way to tamp down that heart, brain, impotence and memory-killing menace today: Stock your kitchen with foods that change your blood fats and help your arteries repel plaque.
This plan is right for you even if you’re among the one in four people now taking an LDL cholesterol-lowering statin or have switched to another LDL cholesterol-managing drug due to statin side effects, such as muscle pain, nausea or liver problems. It’s an issue, one new report says, for a whopping 17 percent of statin users. Don’t get us wrong. Statins are great when a healthy lifestyle alone can’t knock back high LDLs; statins’ benefits include cooling off chronic inflammation that can lead to many health risks. But don’t overlook the power of smart foods to help keep arteries clean as a whistle.
A growing mountain of research shows smart foods do way more than cut your LDL levels down to size. They help your body produce larger, less-dangerous LDL parcels, and that protects artery walls from the dings and dents of smaller LDL parcels that kick-start atherosclerosis. Heart-smart eating cools off inflammation so that your artery walls stop rolling out the red carpet for fat-filled plaque. Some edibles provide building blocks for good HDLs, the nifty “trash trucks” that collect LDLs for disposal. This keeps a lid on high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
Grab these to show your heart a little love:
Bread spreads with stanols and sterols. Spreading your 100 percent whole-grain toast with a cholesterol-lowering spread containing these plant compounds could reduce LDL levels by an impressive 6 percent to 15 percent. These natural compounds come from the cell walls of plant foods. They have a structure similar to cholesterol, so your body absorbs them instead of cholesterol in your digestive system. Neat trick. You’ll get some from wheat germ, canola oil, peanuts, walnuts, almonds and Brussels sprouts. But to get a dose proven to lower LDLs significantly, try a fortified bread spread. Two servings give you the recommended 1.3g to 2g a day.
Oats, beans, pears and more. One type of fiber in these and other foods becomes a slippery gel in your digestive system — “The Blob that ate LDLs” — and mops up bad cholesterol, ushering it out of your body. This can lower LDL levels by 2 percent to 4 percent, enough to reduce heart-attack risk by twice that much. Aim for up to 10g a day of soluble fiber (one of two kinds in fruits and veggies — the other is insoluble), the amount in 2 teaspoons of psyllium powder (if you’re taking it, spread it throughout your day) or from 1 cup of black beans, four apricots and 1 cup of cooked asparagus.
The odd omegas: 3, 7 and 9. Healthy, purified omega-7 fatty acids (found in supplements) and omega-9s (found in olive and canola oil) squelch heart-threatening LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and boost ticker-friendly HDLs. Mike (he’s the older of us) takes 420mg of purified omega-7s along with what we both take daily: 900mg of DHA (the most powerful omega-3 fatty acid, also proven to protect hearts). Fatty fish like salmon boosts your omega-3 levels, too.
Walnuts, pecans and sunflower seeds. A small handful a day delivers heart-healthy fats and LDL-fighting phytosterols. Pairing them with oatmeal and soymilk in a diet low in saturated fat (full-fat milk, cheese, ice cream and fatty meats boost LDLs) can lower cholesterol 13 percent.
Green, yellow and red veggies. Red types (tomato sauce, watermelon) contain lutein, which blocks oxidization of LDLs, a process that leads to artery clogging. Peas, green beans, corn, broccoli, carrots and other green and yellow-hued veggies can reduce plaque buildup by a whopping 38 percent. Fill half your plate with colorful produce at every meal.
Delicious dark chocolate and cocoa. Cocoa puts the brakes on inflammation. For full benefits, have an ounce of extra-dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa or higher) a few times a week.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.