If you’re concerned about cholesterol, you probably already know the basics: a healthy low-fat diet that goes easy on the butter, well-marbled steaks and chocolate chip cookies. But there’s more to controlling your cholesterol than memorizing long lists of forbidden foods. If you’re tired of being told about all the things you shouldn’t eat, maybe it’s time to start concentrating on a few things you should eat.
One food you should get into the habit of tossing into your shopping cart is the humble bunch of grapes, says Elson Haas, MD, director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, CA. “There’s a compound in grape skins and seeds that helps lower cholesterol,” he says.
The Anti-Cholesterol Shopping Cart
While you’re in the produce section, you should also pick up a few juicy grapefruits. A study at the University of Florida found that people who ate a cup and a half of grapefruit sections each day lowered their cholesterol levels by more than 7 percent in two months. Grapefruits are rich in a fiber called pectin that binds with dietary fat and cholesterol and escorts them out of your body before they can be absorbed into your bloodstream.
Another way to get more pectin into your diet is to eat more carrots. In fact, researchers have found that some people can lower their total cholesterol 10 to 20 percent just by eating two carrots a day, says Peter D. Hoagland, PhD, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Eastern Regional Research Center in Philadelphia.
For Lower Cholesterol, just add Milk
If your morning routine consists of a cup of coffee and a surly comment to the paperboy, you’re missing out on one of the easiest ways to control your cholesterol. In a word: breakfast. People who skip the most important meal of the day tend to have higher cholesterol levels than those who start off their mornings with a bellyful. One reason may be that breakfast skippers make up for missing the morning feast by munching on unhealthy snacks later on, suggest John L. Stanton, PhD, a professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should indulge your morning craving for a fat-filled Egg McMuffin. The best breakfast for cholesterol control also happens to be one of the simplest, cheapest and quickest to prepare: a bowl of ready-to-eat cereal with skim milk. Research shows that people who start the day with a little snap, crackle and pop have lower cholesterol levels than those who choose other breakfasts.
Clobber Cholesterol with a Clove
You’ve heard whispers that eating garlic can help keep cholesterol under control — but you’re wary of the distinctive-smelling breath that makes your corner pizza parlor a really bad place for a date. While eating one clove of garlic a day is effective in reducing cholesterol, it’s not the only way to get the blood-cleansing benefit of this fragrant plant, says Varro E. Tyler, PhD, professor of pharmacognosy at Purdue University. You can get the same effect with garlic supplements, sold at many health food stores. In fact, allicin — the active ingredient in garlic — is actually easier for your body to absorb when taken as a supplement. Dr.Tyler suggests looking for a supplement labeled “enteric coated.” These supplements pass through your stomach and are digested in the small intestine, minimizing the chance of stomach upset.
See Your Way to Lower Cholesterol
By exercising and eating right, you’ve enlisted your whole body in the fight against cholesterol. Now get your mind in on the act with this visualization from Barbara Dossey, RN, director of Holistic Nursing Consultants in Santa Fe, NM: Imagine you’re following a beam of light into one of your blood vessels. As you approach the wall of the vessel, notice the dome-shaped accumulation of sticky cholesterol that has collected over an old injury to the vessel. Now picture yourself gently peeling off layers of fatty material and handing them over to special cells that pass by. Like little garbage trucks, these cells haul the cholesterol to the intestine, where it begins its journey out of your body.
Next, travel over to your liver, where cholesterol is manufactured. Imagine talking to the supervisor of cholesterol production and suggesting that production quotas should be lower, so less cholesterol is made. He agrees and promises that your cholesterol will be maintained at a lower, healthy level.
Dossey recommends doing this exercise twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.