Buffing Up Your Breakfast Could Bring High Cholesterol Levels Back to Normal
If you've been diagnosed with high cholesterol levels, you may have been offered a prescription for a cholesterol-lowering medication. Like all drugs, those used to lower cholesterol can have a number of unpleasant side effects, and they can be expensive to boot.
The good news is that taking medications isn't the only way — or even the safest way — to lower your cholesterol. In many cases, making a few changes in your morning meal can reduce cholesterol levels as effectively as many cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast can get your day off to a great start, and it can also have a significant impact on your cholesterol. Oatmeal owes its cholesterol-lowering properties to a type of soluble fiber known as beta-glucan.
Soluble fiber is a gel-like plant substance that binds to cholesterol in the gut and causes it to be excreted from the body rather than absorbed. The soluble fiber in oats reduces levels of bad, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol without lowering levels of heart-healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
Research shows that consuming just 3 grams of oat fiber daily, the amount found in a serving of oatmeal, typically lowers total cholesterol by as much as 23 percent, and reduces LDL cholesterol by around 5 percent in just a few short weeks.
If you're looking for a little variety in your whole grain breakfast foods, you might want to give barley a try. Barley is often used as an ingredient in casseroles, soups and salads, but it's delicious and nutritious when eaten as a hot cereal.
Like oats, barley is rich in the cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, beta-glucan. Scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that volunteers who ate 6 grams of barley fiber daily for five weeks experienced reductions in LDL cholesterol levels of 11 percent to 23 percent, and reduced their total cholesterol levels by 9 percent to 16 percent.
Adding a few teaspoons of psyllium to your breakfast cereal can further increase its cholesterol-lowering benefits. Psyllium fiber is sold as a nutritional supplement in supermarkets and health-food stores in the form of powders, capsules and tablets.
Researchers at the University of Kentucky reported that men diagnosed with high cholesterol who consumed 10.2 grams of psyllium fiber daily for eight weeks experienced significant reductions in their cholesterol levels. For the study, the scientists gave male subjects either 5.1 grams of psyllium or a placebo twice daily for eight weeks.
At the end of the two-month study, the researchers found that compared to the men who received the placebo, those taking psyllium had total blood cholesterol levels that were an average of nearly 9 percent lower. Levels of LDL cholesterol were 13 percent lower in the psyllium group than in the placebo group.
Sprinkling a little cinnamon on your favorite breakfast cereal does more than just add flavor, it can also help reduce your cholesterol. Scientists at the Human Nutrition Research Center found that when diabetic adults consumed a half-teaspoon of cinnamon daily for six weeks, their total cholesterol levels fell by 12 percent to 26 percent.
Adding a dose of plant sterols or stanols to your morning meal can provide additional benefits. These natural compounds block the absorption of cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract and can significantly lower blood cholesterol levels when consumed on a daily basis.
Plant sterols and stanols are available in specially labeled margarine substitutes and spreads, such as Benecol and Take Control. A number of breakfast drinks, including orange juice and flavored yogurt beverages, are now fortified with the cholesterol-lowering substances.
At the University of California, scientists studied the effects of plant sterols on healthy adults with mildly elevated cholesterol levels. Subjects were allowed to eat their normal diets, but with the addition of a cup of orange juice at breakfast and lunch.
Half the volunteers received regular orange juice, while the other half received orange juice fortified with plant sterols. At the end of the eight-week study, the researchers found that the volunteers who drank the sterol-fortified juice experienced a 12.4 percent decrease in LDL cholesterol levels, while those consuming the regular juice had no significant change.
For some individuals with high cholesterol, the use of cholesterol-lowering prescription drugs may be appropriate. But for folks who are determined to avoid taking a pill, making a few changes in the morning meal may be all that's necessary to bring cholesterol levels back into the normal range.
Rallie McAllister, M.D. is a family physician, speaker, and co-founder of www.MommyMDGuides.com, a website featuring child-raising tips from trusted doctors who are also moms.