Think fast: How many servings of vegetables have you had today? One? None? How about fruit?
If you’re like many Americans, you miss plenty of opportunities for getting them — like ordering a veggie topping for your pizza or adding raisins to your oatmeal. In order to get nine or more servings a day, you must become a fruit-and-veggie opportunist. Not only are these foods loaded with cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, they also contain other artery-friendly compounds, such as cholesterol-reducing sterols and antioxidants.
All fruits and vegetables have health benefits to offer. But some are especially good for your arteries. Among the best for cholesterol:
Avocados. Although this is one of the few fruits high in fat, it’s mainly mono-unsaturated fat. Several studies find that eating one avocado a day can lower your LDL as much 17 percent while raising your HDL. Try them in salads and sandwiches or mashed with a bit of lemon juice, onion, and chopped tomato as a topping for baked potatoes. Just don’t go overboard; one avocado has about 340 calories.
Garlic. Garlic can lower cholesterol modestly as well as prevent blood from becoming sticky and forming dangerous clots. The compound most studies focus on, allicin, is the same one that gives garlic its distinctive odor. In one analysis of five trials in which participants received either garlic supplements or a placebo, the authors concluded that you could lower your total cholesterol about 9 percent with the equivalent of 1 1/2 to 3 cloves of garlic daily for two to six months.
You need to crush, chop, or otherwise bruise the cloves to release the allicin. For a sweet way to get your garlic, remove the loose paper covering from a head of garlic, cut off the tops of the garlic, drizzle olive oil on it, wrap in foil, and bake in a 350°F oven until soft, about an hour. Then squeeze the heads of the cooked garlic onto toasted bread and spread.
What if you don’t like garlic, also known as the “stinking rose”? Can you get the same benefits from a garlic pill? Maybe, if you choose the right one. A study by ConsumerLab.com found that 7 of 14 garlic supplements tested contained less of the active ingredient (allicin) than researchers say is necessary for a therapeutic effect. Those doses include 3,600 to 5,400 milligrams of allicin, while the doses in the products tested ranged from 400 to 6,500 milligrams. The products that met or exceeded recommended doses included Garlinase 4000, Nutrilite Garlic Heart Care Formula Dietary Supplement, Spring Valley Enteric Coated Odor-Free Garlic 1,200 milligrams equivalent per tablet, and Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract.
Oranges. Think of your morning orange juice as cholesterol medicine in a glass. After drinking three glasses of orange juice a day for four weeks, 25 participants in a Canadian trial increased their HDL levels 21 percent and lowered their LDL/HDL ratio 16 percent. Of course, if you’re watching your calorie intake, three glasses of juice is a lot; you’ll probably want to stick to a glass or two a day.
Prunes. Prunes (dried plums) contain a special kind of soluble fiber called pectin, which forms a gel in your intestines that sops up cholesterol before it hits your bloodstream. Blend cooked prunes with water into a puree that can replace oils and fats in baking, add dried prunes to stews for a delicious sweetness, or chop and sprinkle over salads, yogurt, cottage cheese, or cereal.
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