Q: Are there any good foods for lowering cholesterol or keeping it low? I know there’s a history in my family of problems, and I’d rather change my diet than end up on medications.
Answer: Remember the old children’s song about “oats, peas, beans and barley”? There’s your answer!
Since the song comes from the early 1900s, I doubt they were writing about cholesterol, but those are your go-to foods. They all have soluble or viscous fiber.
The other good source of this kind of fiber is psyllium seeds, the main ingredient in Metamucil and similar products. In the gut that kind of fiber absorbs or catches cholesterol from the meal and bile acids from the body. Bile acids are made by the liver from cholesterol in the body. The fiber carries the cholesterol and bile acids out, so the liver removes more from the blood to make more.
Keep repeating the process, and you can lower your cholesterol levels. The average is about a 5 percent to 8 percent reduction. The effective amount is about 2⁄3 cup of beans per day, or two to three servings of oatmeal or barley per day, or three servings of the psyllium powder or crackers, in some combination.
If you’re not familiar with cooking with barley, start with the “quick” kind. It cooks in 10 minutes, just like rice. And it can be used in almost any dish that uses rice. It is a bit chewier, but much more healthful. Unless you’re already eating a high-fiber diet, work up gradually. Letting your body get used to more fiber slowly means less gas and distress. This is assuming you’re eating a diet that is low in saturated fat.
Read food labels and choose products that have 1 gram or less of saturated fat for every 100 calories. Cook mostly with oils rather than solid fats. And keep up the good work!
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.