Helpful nutrients and foods
In addition to unsaturated fats, certain other nutrients and foods have potent cholesterol-reducing mechanisms. "A diet that combines soluble fiber, phytosterols, nuts, and soy protein can make an enormous difference," says David J. A. Jenkins, MD, PhD, Canada Research Chair in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Toronto.
Soluble fiber: This sticky form of fiber traps bile acids (compounds we need to digest fat) and shuttles them out of the body. Because bile acids are made from cholesterol, your liver taps into your body’s cholesterol supply to make more of them, lowering overall levels. Experts recommend roughly 10 grams of soluble fiber per day from foods like oats, barley, psyllium, flaxseed, okra, and eggplant.
Phytosterols and stanols: These substances block absorption of cholesterol from the food we eat. While a plant-rich diet with lots of nuts and seeds supplies about one gram a day, most of us need enriched foods like spreads, yogurt, or orange juice to acquire the two grams a day that can help lower cholesterol by approximately 10 percent.
Nuts: "Nuts are like cholesterol-¬lowering pills because of their mono¬unsaturated fats and vegetable protein," Jenkins says. They all do the trick, according to a recent Pennsylvania State University review, which found that tree nuts could help lower LDL cholesterol between three and 19 percent. Aim for one-and-a-half ounces a day.
Soy protein: Soy is cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat, and high in fiber, making it an excellent meat substitute. Earlier this year, the AHA conducted a review of 22 studies on the efficacy of soy to lower LDL, and while they found no unique effects involving compounds in soyfoods, such as isoflavones, they did find that people who obtain half of their total protein intake from soyfoods lowered LDL levels by three percent.
Combining these foods with a diet low in saturated fat may help deliver an even greater edge. "When you add the benefits of a diet low in saturated fat, you get another 10 percent reduction," Jenkins says.