Want to keep your heart healthy during your 40s and beyond? Keep an eye on your cholesterol levels. High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease.
Being a woman older than 55 increases your chances of developing the disease. The reason being that as your estrogen levels drop during menopause, your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels often rise.
You can’t control your age, but you do have the power to keep your HDL (“good” cholesterol) high and lower your LDL by decreasing the saturated fat and trans fat in your diet and consuming healthier food.
Look for cholesterol lowering foods high in fiber and plant stanols and sterols (or phytosterols). They help block the absorption of cholesterol which helps to lower LDL.
Know Your Cholesterol Levels:
Below 200 mg/dL Desirable
200-239 mg/dL Borderline high
240 mg/dL and above High
Studies have shown that a daily intake of about 2 grams of either stanols or sterols reduces LDL cholesterol by about 5–15 percent—often within weeks.
Reach for fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, whole grains, nuts and seeds, such as apples, amaranth, avocados and barley.
- Amaranth: Animal studies have shown that amaranth, an ancient grain, may improve cholesterol levels says Jill Weisenberger MS, RDN, CDE, author of the soon to be released The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition. “One way that amaranth may help lower cholesterol is through its phytosterols, which are the plant version of cholesterol,” says Weisenberger.
Weisenberger’s tip: “Enjoy cooked amaranth sprinkled over salads for a bit of a crunch, or try amaranth in soup and quick breads.”
- Apples: In one recent study, a group of postmenopausal women who consumed dried apples reduced their bad cholesterol while increasing their HDL cholesterol. Studies also show that the pectin and polyphenols in apples improve lipid metabolism and lower the production of pro-inflammatory molecules.
Weisenberger’s tip: “Think beyond eating an apple straight. Dice one into your cottage cheese and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake one for dessert or sauté apples and onions as a side dish to chicken.”
- Avocados: Various preliminary clinical studies show that avocado consumption helps support cardiovascular health. Avocados are the richest known fruit source of phytosterols. Avocados are high in fat but the good kind, monounsaturated, which is a heart healthy fat.
Weisenberger’s tip: “A simple fix is to add sliced avocado to a sandwich instead of adding saturated fat-rich cheese. Another swap is to mash avocado onto toast instead of spreading it with butter and jelly. Lots of people are even using mashed avocado in place of butter in baking.”
- Barley: Just like in the case of oats, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the go-ahead for food manufacturers to tout barley as a cholesterol-lowering food. Weisenberger says barley contains beta-glucan, a fiber that acts like a sponge by sopping up cholesterol from the digestive tract and preventing it from entering into your bloodstream.
Weisenberger’s tip: Cook up a barley pilaf in place of rice pilaf. Add barley to soup. Make your favorite pasta salad recipe with barley instead of pasta.”
Make bad cholesterol-fighting foods part of your meals, but also add regular exercise to further help lower LDL while raising HDL and lowering blood pressure.