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Information on cholesterol-lowering foods

April 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
While many Americans rely on statin drugs to control cholesterol, Toronto researchers found that combining certain power foods can do a lot to lower your numbers.BACKGROUND: According to the American Heart Association, more than 105 million adults living in America have cholesterol levels of 200 mg/dl or higher. Nearly 37 million of them have cholesterol levels of 240 or above. If your cholesterol levels fall between 200 and 239, you have borderline-high cholesterol. If your level is 240 or above, you have high cholesterol.

Statins are drugs that can lower high cholesterol very effectively. They're the most commonly prescribed drug in the world. But there are ways to get cholesterol levels down without resorting to medication. David Jenkins, M.D., Ph.D., from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, says, "Our research tells us that there is still life in diet yet and you don't have to give up and go straight to drugs."

CAN DIET REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE? Various foods have shown to lower cholesterol levels by a marginal amount -- but each food alone won't lower cholesterol levels by more than about 5 percent. Dr. Jenkins says, "We have to make the dietary choice more attractive in terms of its effectiveness otherwise people are not going to buy it." He set out to determine what effect a diet that combined powerful cholesterol-lowering foods would have on cholesterol levels. He hypothesized that if each of these specific foods could lower cholesterol by about 5 percent, combining them must lower it by 20, even 30 percent. He enrolled 66 people in a study to test the theory.

A POWERFUL COMBO: The participants in the study were all within 30 percent of their recommended cholesterol targets. The participants followed a specific diet containing four distinct foods. The cholesterol-lowering foods in the diet included 1) soy protein; 2) plant sterols -- like those found in canola oil or enriched margarine; 3) nuts; and 4) fiber-rich foods like oats and barley. After one year, more than 30 percent of the participants had stuck to the diet and as a result, lowered their cholesterol levels by more than 20 percent. Dr. Jenkins says, "I have to say we were somewhat shocked because we thought it's so rarely in science that a prediction turns out to be correct and here it was. That is exactly what we found."

A REAL ALTERNATIVE TO DRUGS: Though the diet did take some getting used to for many patients, the payoff was often worth the effort. The most appealing part? Some patients stopped taking drugs entirely. Dr. Jenkins says, "Some of the people who were brought in the study originally were on drugs -- were on statins -- and have been able to stay off the statins for the past three years." Further research by Dr. Jenkins' team has also shown that adding luxury foods to the diet -- like strawberries -- didn't have a negative impact on what the original foods did to cholesterol levels. In that study, patients "spiced up" their cholesterol-lowering diets with all the strawberries they could eat, and still had the same reduction in cholesterol levels.

Want to get started on lowering your cholesterol? Add these foods to your grocery list: Soy, Apples, Rainbow Trout, Spinach, Beans, Carrots, Sardines, Margarine w/plant sterols, Oats, Salmon, Herring, Canola Oil, Barley, Albacore Tuna, Avocado, Nuts, Brown rice, Anchovies, Garlic, Tea

For other medical research, visit Ivanhoe Broadcast News on the Internet: www.ivanhoe.com


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