Are Magic Beans the Real Deal?
by Marin Gazzaniga for MSN Health & Fitness
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You need to lower your cholesterol—can you do it with diet? “On average, dietary changes lower cholesterol by 10 to 20 percent. A lot depends on how bad the diet was to start off with,” says Dr. Roger Blumenthal, a cardiologist and spokesman for the American Heart Association’s “Cholesterol Low Down” campaign. So what’s a high-LDL person who gags at the sight of tofu to do?
We don’t need to tell you again to eat more fruits and vegetables. Everyone should be eating more of these—period. Eat a salad a day, and go easy on the cheese, bacon bits and heavy dressings. Ideal salad ingredients include greens, beans, sunflower seeds and dressings made with olive or canola oil. Add a veggie to your lunch and dinner. Eat fruits at snack time, and put some on your cereal in the morning. It’s that simple.
Even if you’re eating your greens, though, you could be doing more. Here are some of the five best cholesterol-lowering foods around.
Soy far soy good. Studies have shown that three to six servings of soy protein (about 25 grams) a day can lower cholesterol. If you don’t like tempeh or tofu, what are your options? “There are lots of soy-fortified products on the market now,” says Jeannie Moloo, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for American Dietetic Association. Check your supermarket for edamame (soybeans), soy milk (a one-cup serving is 7 grams), soy nuts (15 grams per serving), soy ice cream and cereals, crackers and chips made with soy protein.
I could really go for a legume. Chances are you don’t even know what a legume (pronounced lay-goom) is. “A lot of people think legumes are vegetables,” says Moloo. (Well, in our defense, they are … in France.) Here in the U.S., however, legumes are beans (any kind) and lentils. Eating three half-cup servings a week is recommended. And you don’t have to cook them from scratch—use canned beans. Piece of cake. To spice up your bean eating, try ethnic recipes—Indian dal, for example, is a delicious lentil dish. Replace one meat serving a week with rice and beans or a bean burrito. Sprinkle some garbanzo, cannellini or kidney beans on your salad or have a hummus sandwich. Magical beans, indeed.
Oats, nature’s sponge. What’s all the hype about oatmeal? “Oats are very high in soluble fiber,” explains Moloo. So? “Think of soluble fiber as a sponge actually absorbing cholesterol and carrying it out of your system.” Three grams of oat fiber a day has been shown to decrease total cholesterol and LDL. That translates to one and a half cups of cooked oatmeal. Does it have to be steel cut and slow cooked? “Even quick-cook or instant oatmeal can provide a good amount of soluble fiber.” So, what if we sprinkle some oat bran on a doughnut? “Let’s just say if you want a snack, a packet of instant oatmeal trumps a candy bar.” Flax is good, too. Not only does it have soluble fiber, but it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids and lignans—also good for cholesterol. Sprinkle just two to three tablespoons a day of ground flax seed on cereal, yogurt or salads. (But start slowly, flax gets the bowels moving—which can be another benefit for some.)
Sometimes you feel like a nut. Why has everyone been eating nuts with abandon lately? “Monounsaturated fats can lower the bad LDL cholesterol and modestly raise the good HDL cholesterol,” says Blumenthal of the American Heart Association. Monounsaturated fats are in nuts and seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, etc.), avocados and various oils, such as vegetable, olive, safflower, sunflower and canola. This doesn’t mean you can inhale a can of Planter’s. Remember foods rich in fats are also calorie heavy, so limit your serving size: Use a teaspoon of oil on a salad and eat no more than an ounce of nuts at one sitting. “A good way to estimate a serving size is to fill a mint tin the size of a deck of cards with your favorite nuts,” dietician Moloo suggests. Or you can check the serving size on containers for how many nuts in an ounce.
Multi-tasking foods. There’s a new food group in town called “functional foods.” These are everyday foods fortified to make them healthier or new delectables custom-designed to prevent disease. For instance, “Benecol” and “Take Control” are spreads that can replace margarine or butter. They use plant sterols and stanols (a plant source that acts similarly to a soluble fiber). Plant sterols and stanols are also added to yogurt, orange juice, salad dressings and granola bars—just a few of many designer cholesterol-lowering foods hitting market shelves.
Each of these foods can benefit your health, but they’re most effective as part of a health-conscious eating plan. “Ultimately what you want is a well-balanced diet with these food groups,” says Blumenthal. And don’t forget a dash of common sense. Even if you’ve made an effort to put these foods on your menu, that isn’t an excuse to eat whatever else you want. As Blumenthal points out, “You still need to minimize simple carbs, desserts, red meats and fried foods.”
Lowering cholesterol is just some of the magic that beans--and all of these healthy eating options--can impart. Making these foods part of your daily diet can also lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. So go ahead, make Jack proud.