Lowering your cholesterol levels is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Today, more than 102 million American adults (20 years of age or older) have total cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dL, which is above healthy levels. More than 35 million of these people have levels of 240 mg/dL or higher, which puts them at high risk for heart disease. Many more millions of Americans have high cholesterol and don’t even know it. This month marks National Cholesterol Education Month, so what better time to take preventive steps to reduce your heart disease risk and the chances of having a heart attack or stroke. The good news is that as you’re following the South Beach Diet, you’re already protecting your heart and improving your overall health. To ensure a heart-healthy eating plan, be sure to regularly include these 7 superfoods in your diet.
1. Wild Salmon (and other omega-3-rich fish)
Cold-water fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild salmon, herring, mackerel, canned light tuna, anchovies, and sardines, can help lower bad LDL cholesterol when substituted for foods containing saturated and trans fats in the diet. Dr. Arthur Agatston, leading preventive cardiologist and creator of the South Beach Diet, recommends eating fish two or three times a week. Studies show that including omega-3-rich seafood in a diet can also help reduce blood pressure and inflammation and play a positive role in improving mood and memory loss. (Note: A pregnant or breast-feeding woman should consult her doctor before consuming fish or shellfish.)
2. Broccoli (and other cruciferous vegetables)
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale are packed with antioxidants that can help reduce cholesterol. Regularly eating cruciferous veggies may also help lower blood pressure, promote healthy eyesight, and reduce age-related memory loss.
3. Beans and other legumes
All beans and other legumes, including black, red, navy, kidney, pinto, lentils, and garbanzos, are loaded with filling protein and both soluble and insoluble fiber. The fiber in legumes can help lower bad LDL cholesterol and, it helps to slow the digestion process, preventing glucose and insulin levels from rising steeply. Thus beans and other legumes are an ideal choice for people with diabetes.
4. Oats and other whole grains
All whole grains, including oats, wheat, wild rice, brown rice, quinoa, millet, and barley, contain soluble fiber, which helps block the body’s absorption of cholesterol. Eating high-fiber whole grains also aids in stabilizing blood sugar and regulating insulin production, helping to lower your risk of diabetes.
5. Nuts and seeds
Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and other nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein, heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. When substituted for saturated fat in your diet, nuts and seeds can help reduce total cholesterol as well as bad LDL cholesterol without affecting levels of good HDL cholesterol. Just be sure to limit your daily intake to about 1 ounce (1/4 cup), since nuts and seeds are calorie dense.
Powerful antioxidants (called polyphenols) found in black, white, green, and oolong tea can help lower bad LDL cholesterol. Studies show that oolong tea increases LDL particle size, helping to prevent LDL from burrowing into vessel walls.
7. Red wine
Because red wine contains resveratrol, a phytonutrient found in red grapes that posesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, studies suggest that drinking red wine may protect against artery-damaging LDL cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Enjoy an occasional glass or two of red wine with a meal on Phase 2, but stop at one or two. More than one drink a day for women and two for men can increase the risk of heart disease and have other harmful effects on the body.