Healthy Habit Counselor Greenbelt MD

Packed with soluble fiber, this hearty morning meal does more than keep you full until lunch. Doctors recommend oatmeal as part of a cholesterol-lowering plan because your body needs to use bile acids to digest this complex carb, and—surprise—they’re actually made up of cholesterol.

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Richard L Atkinson Jr, MD
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The Heart of the Matter

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By Meghan Rabbitt

You sure hear it enough—for a heart-healthy diet, eat plenty of whole grains, dark leafy greens, and cold-water fish like salmon. Beth Reardon, RD, a nutritionist at Duke Integrative Medicine, explains how these foods work.

Oatmeal
Packed with soluble fiber, this hearty morning meal does more than keep you full until lunch. Doctors recommend oatmeal as part of a cholesterol-lowering plan because your body needs to use bile acids to digest this complex carb, and—surprise—they’re actually made up of cholesterol. “To replenish bile-acid stores after digestion, the body has to draw on its own cholesterol sources—like the stuff that’s floating around in your bloodstream,” says Reardon. “So eating a bowl of oatmeal is essentially like taking a sponge to the bad cholesterol that’s in your blood.”

Omega-3s
Thanks to all the packaged foods we eat, most of us get far more omega-6s than omega-3s (the average ratio is 11-to-1, but ratios of 30-to-1 or higher are common). Since omega- 6s are proinflammatory, they lead to chronic, low-grade inflammation in the body. “This inflammation prompts the oxidizing of the LDL, or bad, cholesterol, which then makes it stickier and more likely to adhere to the artery walls,” says Reardon. Adding omega-3s (found in wild salmon and mackerel, as well as flax and hemp seeds) helps prevent that oxidation of LDL cholesterol. What’s more, bringing the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio closer to 1-to-1 can have a big impact on your overall health. The chronic, low-grade inflammation fueled by too many omega-6s actually kicks the immune system into action. When it focuses its power on chronic inflammation, it can miss other issues that might come up, like cancer-causing cells in the breast tissue or prostate, says Reardon.

Fruits and Veggies
The food you find in the produce department is loaded with antioxidants, those critically important foot soldiers in the fight against heart disease. Some of the less nutritious foods we eat, as well as environmental pollutants, create free radicals, which have been shown to damage artery walls and lead to heart disease. “Free radicals are molecules that have had one of their electrons taken away, and they multiply quickly because of their Pac-Man mentality,” says Reardon. “They try to complete themselves by finding electrons in other cells of the body and taking them, transforming those formerly healthy cells into free radicals.” The antioxidants in fruits and veggies donate electrons, so the free radicals in your body can regenerate on their own, without stealing electrons from healthy cells. For optimal results, Reardon recommends getting between nine and 12 servings of produce each day, with 60 percent of that being vegetables. It sounds like a lot, but try adding raisins to oatmeal; drinking OJ; snacking on green beans with hummus; blending green smoothies (which usually pack two servings); and steaming two types of veggies for dinner.

Author: Meghan Rabbitt

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