heart healthy foodsFebruary is Heart Month

If you’re thinking this has something to do with chocolates or roses, think again! This national campaign has been going strong for more than half a century. The goal is to raise awareness (and donations) for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and highlight the risks of heart disease and stroke. 

Coming from a nutrition background, we used to talk about avoiding eggs and cutting down on fat to help reduce risk for heart disease. Oh, how the times have changed. The most recent recommendations released are the Dietary Guideline for Americans by the USA Government. Interestingly, these guidelines did not mention cutting out dietary cholesterol- the cholesterol that is found in food. It has been long known that eating less cholesterol does very little to actually lower cholesterol levels in our blood. This de-emphasis on dietary cholesterol is great news since it allows us to focus on food related changes that will be more effective in actually lowering cholesterol levels in our blood. 

The US guidelines, along with the 2012 Update of the Canadian Cardiovascular Society Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Dyslipidemia for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in the Adult suggest many of the things you’d expect: Eat a variety of vegetables (dark leafy green, red, orange), whole fruits, grain products (half of all grains should be whole grains), low fat dairy (such as milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified soy beverage) and protein rich foods (like seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds and soy products). As well as recommendations to avoid too much added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.

I have to admit, I hate talking about what not to eat. Not only is it boring, but it perpetuates the myth that dietitians take away food choices. Believing that there are foods you have to avoid completely to be healthy is a myth and doesn’t give us perspective on all the things that should be enjoyed for a healthy body and mind.

If you are trying to lower your cholesterol levels, here are some interesting nutrients you’ll want to consider including more often. Please note that these nutrients are more effective when blood levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides are high (rather than normal): 


1. Plant sterols or phytosterols

-consuming 1-2 g per day of phytosterols can lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad cholesterol) by 5-8%.

-example*: some foods naturally contain plant sterols but in quantities that are too low to make an impact on blood cholesterol levels, so we have to look to fortified products. Practically all products fortified with plant sterol contain about 1g per serving. Choose 2 servings from this list and you’ll get ~2g: 2 tsp /10ml plant sterol fortified margarine (example), 100g / 100ml plant sterol fortified yogurt, 1 plant sterol fortified drinkable yogurt, 1 cup plant sterol fortified juice (example).

2. Soy protein

-consuming 25g of soy protein per day can lower LDL cholesterol by 3-5%.

example1/4 cup/1oz soynuts (12g) + 2/3 cup /3oz) edamame (6g) + 1 cup/8oz plain soymilk (~7g). 

3. High viscous fibres (or what we used to call soluble fibre)

-consuming 10g of psyllium (a type of solutble fibre) per day can lowered LDL choelsterol by 7% if you have high cholesterol.

example: 1 tbsp/15ml metamucil (3.5g) + 1/4 cup/1oz roasted soy nuts (3.5g) + 1 med orange (~2g) + 1 cup/250ml cooked broccoli (~3g).

4. Omega 3s

-consuming 2-4 g per day of EPA and DHA, under a physician’s care, can lower triglycerides levels by 25-30% if they are very high. 

example: 75g / 2.5oz salmon (~1.5g) + 2 egg serving of omega plus liquid eggs (0.5g) + 75g/2.5oz canned sardines (1g).

5. Nuts 

-consuming 30-67g per day can reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 7% and triglycerides by 10%.

example, 1/4 cup/60ml usually equals about 35g of nuts, regardless of the type of nut. 

*unfortunately, it was extremely difficult to find information on example products via the internet. The best bet is to read the package of the food that is fortified with plant sterols/phytosterols. Any food claiming to contain plant sterols must include the amount found in one serving. 

KEEP IN MIND: eating a diet that includes these cholesterol lowering nutrients may help you lower your cholesterol levels better than JUST eating a diet low in saturated fat (13.8% versus 3%). 

This handy graphic outlines all you need to know about the powerful nutrients you should include in your diet to help lower high cholesterol: