Cholesterol and diet
A few months ago I posted about my husband’s dilemma with his cholesterol, specifically his low-density (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol level.
His physician advised a statin, but my husband is understandably reluctant to start taking a daily pill for the next 30+ years.
Because he has no other heart disease risk factors, such as being overweight, a smoker, high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease, he and his physician made a plan to re-check his cholesterol level in 6 months.
A date which is rapidly approaching.
He’s exercising more and being more careful about his diet. He’s limiting high-cholesterol foods like eggs, and foods high in saturated fats, like cheeseburgers.
And the other day he asked me if eating even more fiber than he normally does would help lower his cholesterol.
In general, cholesterol levels are determined by genetics, and diet only has a modest effect, good or bad.
However, there are people whose blood cholesterol levels are much more affected by what they eat. It’s interesting to note that my husband’s cholesterol spiked after he started eating two-egg breakfasts every day!
Even though we already have a relatively fiber-rich diet, I thought my husband could benefit from adding more foods that are high in soluble fiber.
Research has shown that diets high in soluble fiber can lower bad cholesterol by a modest amount. On average, about 2 points for every added gram of soluble fiber.
Soluble fiber vs. insoluble fiber
I keep saying soluble fiber because not all fiber behaves the same way in our bodies.
Soluble fiber binds with LDL and helps remove it from your bloodstream; insoluble fiber does not.
The American Heart Association recommends 25-35 grams of fiber every day for optimal heart health, but they don’t differentiate between soluble and insoluble fiber.
Nutrition labels don’t, either. The thinking is that if you get enough fiber every day (and only about 30% of Americans do!), you’ll get enough soluble fiber, too.
Although insoluble fiber doesn’t lower cholesterol, it does have heart benefits. Studies show high-fiber diets help prevent high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and obesity (fiber makes you feel full more quickly).
Good sources of soluble fiber
My husband and I had to do a little research to find the best sources of soluble fiber. He is aiming for 15 grams of soluble fiber every day. Theoretically, that could lower his LDL by 30 points.
Luckily, many foods that are high in soluble fiber are common and inexpensive. We already eat most of them; I’ll just be more deliberate in my shopping and cooking to make sure we get enough every day.
I averaged out the soluble fiber amounts because different nutrition tables listed slightly different values. Still, I was interested to see which foods had relatively more soluble fiber than others.
Cereals and grains
- Grape-Nuts, ½ cup, 1 gram
- Cheerios, 1 cup, 1 gram
- Oatmeal, 1 cup cooked, 1 gram
- Flax seed, 1 tablespoon, 1 gram
- Pearl barley, 1 cup cooked, 2 grams
Beans and legumes
- Beans (black or kidney), 1 cup cooked, 4 grams
- Chickpeas, 1 cup, 3 grams
- Split peas, 1 cup cooked, 5 grams
- Lentils, ½ cup cooked, 1 gram
Pearl barley, beans and legumes make great soups, especially when made with homemade bone broth 😀
Fruits and vegetables
- Pear, 1 medium, 3 grams
- Plums, 5 small, 2 grams
- Apple, 1 medium, 1 gram
- Grapefruit, 1 medium, 2 grams
- Mango, 1 medium, 3 grams
- Brussels sprouts, ½ cup cooked, 2 grams
- Butternut squash, ½ cup cooked, 3 grams
- Sweet potato, ½ cup cooked, 2 grams
- Collard greens, 1 cup cooked, 2 grams
- Meta-mucil (psyllium), 1 rounded teaspoon, 2 grams
- According to the National Fiber Council, only Meta-mucil supplements lower cholesterol. Other fiber supplements, such as Citrucel (methylcellulose) or Benefiber (wheat dextrin) are best used to treat constipation.
One more thing—I advised my husband to increase his fiber intake slowly, as too much too quickly can cause unpleasant intestinal symptoms, like bloating, gas and diarrhea.
Want more information on lowering your cholesterol through diet and other lifestyle changes? The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers a booklet called Your Guide to Lowering Cholesterol With Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC).