Researchers Say Nuts to Low-Fat Diet Alone

Need to get your LDL cholesterol down (maybe way down) but your low-fat diet just isn't doing it? Try upping your intake of nuts, including soy nuts. Add a bowl of oatmeal (these are the best fast food choices) or barley soup, some soy milk, and a little cholesterol-fighting bread spread. Done.
In a new study, people who ate a diet rich in these foods lowered their LDL cholesterol by at least 13% in just 6 months. The shocker: A comparison group that ate a diet low in saturated fat got only a 3% LDL reduction. Talk about surprises. (Another surprise: Oatmeal and walnuts make you feel happy, too.)

A One-Two Punch
Lesson learned: Cutting back on saturated fat, while a healthy idea in general, isn't enough to get your LDL where you want it. It's stubborn stuff. To smack it down, you need drugs (here's a 101 on which) or foods rich in three specific ingredients: plant sterols (phytosterols), soy protein, and sticky (viscous) fiber.
These ingredients may not sound all that tasty, but the foods they're in are! (Who doesn't love cashews?) They're also easy to find, quick and simple to eat, and so filling that they'll likely help you lose weight while lowering your LDL cholesterol. How effective are their ingredients? Other studies have found that diets rich in them could cut your LDL cholesterol as much as a low-dose statin drug. Yowza.
To knock down your cholesterol, here's how much to eat of what:
  • Mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds, peanuts, the works): a small handful a day. Nuts are full of protein, heart-healthy fats, and -- critical here -- LDL-fighting phytosterols.
  • Soy protein: two to three servings a day of soy milk, soy nuts, and tofu (total: 25 grams of protein). This alone can drop your LDL by 10%.
  • Spreads high in plant sterols (think Benecol, Take Control): about two tablespoons a day. That's enough to reduce your LDL levels 5% to 17%.
  • Sticky fiber: about two servings a day of oatmeal, barley, beans, lentils, or a psyillium supplement (Metamucil). The sticky, viscous fiber in these foods can lower LDL by 5% to 10%.

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