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Skinny Without Willpower

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Lowering Cholesterol Through Diet

The American Heart Association estimates that about 140 million Americans have cholesterol that is either high or borderline-high and of these about 37% have a cholesterol level of higher than 240. Cholesterol, especially the low-density (LDL) type is a major risk factor for developing heart disease, high blood pressure and liver failure. Heart disease still tops the number one killer in America. Each percentage point drop in total serum cholesterol count lowers the risk of heart disease by 2%. Typically values over 240 are treated with prescription statin drugs like Lipitor and Lovastatin. Last year alone Americans spent $30 billion in prescription drugs for lowering cholesterol.

There is a however an alternative approach to lowering cholesterol based purely on diet and exercise. Plus it keeps you in good shape and makes you feel good about yourself. My own fasting cholesterol was over 240 a few years back and now after following a moderate exercise and healthy eating regimen I was able to lower my cholesterol to 190 while improving my HDL/LDL ratio.

These diet recommendations are based on a study done by Dr.
David J.A. Jenkins (the father of Glycemic index) at the University of Toronto. In the study three groups of 16 middle-aged adults were put on three different diets.

1) The control group followed a healthy diet based on whole grains, low fat diary and low saturated fats.
2) The second group followed the same diet as the control group with the addition of taking the prescription drug Lovastatin.
3) The third group followed a diet that was high in plant sterols, soluble fiber, soy and almonds.

As expected the second group receiving the prescription Lovastatin had a 31% reduction in total serum cholesterol. The most surprising finding, however, was that the third group had a 29% reduction in total cholesterol levels making it as effective as taking prescription statin drugs!

Now let’s take a closer look at the diet followed by the third group as this is what interests us most. This diet mainly consisted of 4 food groups:

1) Nuts: Nuts are a rich source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA). MUFA's play a vital role in metabolizing fat and are instrumental in raising HDL (good) cholesterol. They mainly affect the good/bad cholesterol ratio. The richest sources of MUFA are peanuts, almonds, walnuts, macadamia and pecans. A handful of these can be eaten on a daily basis without the risk of weight gain. The Jenkins study subjects in the third group ate a handful of almonds daily
2) Soy: Dr. Jenkins substituted a lot of the dairy and lean meats from the first two groups by soy alternatives like soy burgers and soy milk. This eliminated some of the saturated fats found in the former food groups.
3) Soluble fiber: Soluble fiber is found in sources such as oatmeal and certain whole grains and has been shown to lower total serum cholesterol. Soluble fiber as opposed to insoluble fiber is the sticky fiber and vegetables are a good source of soluble fiber most notably, Okra, egg plant, beans and legumes. The subjects in the third group ate regular portions of these food groups.
4) Plant sterols: A recent discovery of certain plant phytochemicals knows as “phytosterols” plays a vital role in lowering the total cholesterol count and fighting against certain forms of cancer. Although plant sterols are not found in significant quantities in any single source, researchers have been able to extract concentrates. It is available in pill form and also in certain phytosterol-enriched spreads such a Benecol and Take Control.

The successful implementation of this diet means eating portions of all these four food groups on a daily basis. Almonds and other nuts are easy to implement in any diet as a mid-meal snack. Just grab a handful and you are set. Oatmeal can be a regular breakfast item along with some fruit and grated almonds. Okra, egg plant and other beans and legumes can be eaten as main course during lunch or dinner and soy is easily consumed as milk or as garden burgers or as tofu. Costco even sells roasted soy beans that can be eaten as a quick snack. So you see it’s not too hard to lower your cholesterol with these few simple tips. In the next writing I’ll talk about building muscle for increasing your metabolism and burning fat. Until next time eat healthy and have a healthy heart…..

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