by Dr Arthur Agatstone
I can’t stop snacking between meals, but I want to try to eat things that will help me lower my cholesterol (instead of raising it!). What would you recommend?
— Steven, Colorado
The good news — or the bad news, depending on what you’re snacking on — is that “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is sensitive to diet, though less sensitive than triglycerides and good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Fortunately, the same foods that can help lower LDL may also improve HDL and triglycerides. So instead of snacking on chips and doughnuts, consider these healthier options:
Nuts and seeds. Sunflower seeds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, pine nuts, flaxseeds, and almonds are particularly high in plant sterols, which can help reduce LDL. But it’s easy to overdo it on nuts and seeds (and they are calorie dense), so I suggest limiting your total intake to about one ounce, or 1/4 cup, a day if you are also trying to lose weight.
Apples. Research shows that eating two apples a day can slow down the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and help prevent plaque buildup. The protective antioxidants are in the apples’ skin, so don’t peel them.
Oat bran. An important source of water-soluble fiber, oats have long been recognized as a potential cholesterol-lowering dietary component. The soluble fiber in oat bran binds with bile acids in the intestine to block the absorption of cholesterol by the body. According to a study conducted at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston, antioxidant compounds found in oat bran called avenanthramides can also prevent white blood cells from sticking to the artery walls, which is an important step in preventing plaque formation. So why not have a bowl of unsweetened oat cereal as a midmorning or mid-afternoon snack? Not only is it filling, it’s good for your heart.
Grapefruit. Studies show that the phytochemicals called liminoids in pink and red grapefruit make them powerful LDL busters. But this snack is not for everyone. Because grapefruit can interfere with the breakdown of certain medications, including statins and calcium channel blockers, don’t eat a lot of grapefruit or drink the juice as a snack if you’re on these medications.