Robert - Here are five foods that can lower your mother's cholesterol
and protect her heart. There are others as well. These are recommended by the Mayo Clinic Staff.
A bowl of oatmeal can help prevent a heart attack? How about a handful of walnuts, or even your baked potato topped with some heart-healthy margarine? A few simple tweaks to her diet — like these — may be enough to lower her cholesterol to a healthy level and help her stay off medications. Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces the low-density lipoprotein
(LDL), the "bad" cholesterol. Soluble fiber is also found in such foods as kidney beans, apples, pears, psyllium
, barley and prunes. Soluble fiber appears to reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. Ten grams or more of soluble fiber a day decreases the total and LDL cholesterol. Eating 1 1/2 cups of cooked oatmeal provides 6 grams of fiber. If she adds fruit, such as bananas, she'll add about 4 more grams of fiber. To mix it up a little, try steel-cut oatmeal or cold cereal made with oatmeal or oat bran.
Walnuts, almonds and more
Studies have shown that walnuts can significantly reduce blood cholesterol. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, walnuts also help keep blood vessels healthy and elastic. Almonds appear to have a similar effect, resulting in a marked improvement within just four weeks.
A cholesterol-lowering diet in which 20 percent of the calories come from walnuts may reduce LDL cholesterol by as much as 12 percent. But all nuts are high in calories, so a handful (no more than 2 ounces or 57 grams) will do. As with any food, eating too much can cause weight gain, and being overweight
places you at higher risk of heart disease
. To avoid gaining weight, replace foods high in saturated fat with nuts. For example, instead of using cheese, meat or croutons in your salad, add a handful of walnuts or almonds.
Fish and omega-3 fatty acids
Research has supported the cholesterol-lowering benefits of eating fatty fish because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids also help the heart in other ways such as reducing blood pressure and the risk of blood clots
. In people who have already had heart attacks, fish oil — or omega-3 fatty acids — significantly reduces the risk of sudden death.
Doctors recommend eating at least two servings of fish a week. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are in mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon. However, to maintain the heart-healthy benefits of fish, bake or grill it. If you don't like fish, you can also get omega-3 fatty acids from foods like ground flaxseed or canola oil.
She can take an omega-3 or fish oil supplement to get some of the beneficial effects, but she won't get all the other nutrients in fish, like selenium. If she decides to take a supplement, she should remember to watch her diet and eat lean meat or vegetables in place of fish.
Olive oil contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower the "bad" (LDL) cholesterol but leave the "good" (HDL) cholesterol untouched.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends using about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil a day to get its heart-healthy benefits. To add olive oil to her diet, she can saute vegetables in it, add it to a marinade, or mix it with vinegar as a salad dressing. She can also use olive oil as a substitute for butter when basting meat.
Some research suggests that the cholesterol-lowering effects of olive oil are even greater if you choose extra-virgin olive oil, meaning the oil is less processed and contains more heart-healthy antioxidants. But avoid "light" olive oils. This label usually means the oil is more processed and lighter in color, not fat or calories.
Foods fortified with plant sterols or stanols
Foods are now available that have been fortified with sterols or stanols — substances found in plants that help block the absorption of cholesterol.
Margarines, orange juice and yogurt drinks fortified with plant sterols can help reduce LDL cholesterol by more than 10 percent. The amount of daily plant sterols needed for results is at least 2 grams — which equals about two 8-ounce (237 milliliters) servings of plant sterol-fortified orange juice a day.
Plant sterols or stanols in fortified foods don't appear to affect levels of triglycerides or of "good" high-density lipoprotein
(HDL) cholesterol. Nor do they interfere with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins — vitamins A, D, E and K.
The American Heart Association recommends foods fortified with plant sterols for people with levels of LDL cholesterol over 160 milligrams per deciliter (4.1 mmol/L).
Consider your diet first
Before she makes other changes to her diet, think about cutting back on the types and amounts of fats she eats, which can raise her cholesterol. That way, she'll improve her cholesterol levels and health overall.