Saturday 17 March 2018 7:21 PM UTC
LONDON March 18: Keeping your heart healthy is about more than avoiding fast food and overly processed chow. You can also pump up your heart’s health by choosing foods that will help reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
The cell walls of oats and barley contain a special type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which has a host of benefits for human health. Studies show that it blunts the body’s insulin response and boosts immunity, and it may be protective during radiation and chemotherapy.
But its role in cholesterol reduction is what counts for heart health.
“Beta-glucans bind to bile acids and cholesterol in the intestines and prevent their absorption into the body,” CNN contributor and registered dietitian Lisa Drayer said. “So, if you have high cholesterol, it would be a good idea to incorporate oats or oatmeal for breakfast on a regular basis.”
Other grains, such as rye, wheat and sorghum, contain beta-glucans but in much smaller quantities than oats and barley. Beta-glucans are also found in seaweed, baker’s yeast and various species of mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake and maitake.
Research shows that eating 3 grams of beta-glucans a day will reduce cholesterol by up to 10%. According to Heart UK, a British charity dedicated to helping those with high cholesterol, you can accomplish by eating a bowl of oatmeal each day; adding 2 tablespoons of oat bran to your smoothie, soup or entree at lunch; and having an oatmeal cookie for a snack.
Heart UK says you can replace one of those oat servings with 150 grams (⅔ cup) of cooked pearl barley.
Fish oils, especially omega-3 fatty acids, are critical for maintaining a healthy heart. That means fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, herring, lake trout and sardines and crustaceans such as lobster, oysters and squid are the protein staples of a heart-healthy diet. They all contain health-protective omega-3s, specifically the long-chain variety known as LC omega-3, which contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Long-chain omega-3s have been shown in human clinical trials to prevent heart attacks by helping the heart maintain its rhythm. Studies show that they also make blood less likely to clot, lower blood pressure, keep blood vessels healthy and less likely to narrow, reduce triglycerides and lower inflammation. Whew!
The shorter chain of omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is found abundantly in oils, plants, nuts and seeds, but evidence of its benefit is not as strong.
“The plant-based omega-3s in foods like flaxseed, walnuts and canola oil don’t contain DHA and EPA,” Drayer said. “And while there are benefits to the plant ones as well, you can’t count on them as a source for their longer-chain cousins, because they are not necessarily converted into them once they are in the body.”
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