September is National Cholesterol Education Month & Whole Grains Month

September 19, 2011

Aimee Shea, MPH, RD, CSO, LD

Did you know that over 65 million Americans have high blood cholesterol?  And did you know that high cholesterol significantly increases your risk of heart disease, which is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S.?  And lastly, did you know that what you eat can have a HUGE impact on your cholesterol levels and can help prevent, or even reverse, heart disease???

It’s fitting that September is both National Cholesterol Education and Whole Grains Months because whole grains can help lo
wer cholesterol!  The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Program, developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute describes dietary changes that can help lower blood cholesterol.  The TLC Program recommends adding 5-10 grams of soluble fiber to your diet each day.  This addition could help lower your LDL cholesterol by 3-5%!  (Remember, LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol that we want to be low).  But now you’re probably wondering, “what the heck is soluble fiber and where do I get it?”

Fiber is found in plants and only plants (in other words, animal products do NOT contain fiber).  There are two main types of fiber: insoluble and soluble.  Insoluble fiber doesn’t help lower your cholesterol, but it’s still important – it helps keep you regular.  Soluble fiber, on the other hand, is great at lowering LDL (a.k.a. “bad”) cholesterol.  Soluble fiber helps to block cholesterol and other fats from being absorbed in the small intestines during digestion.  As noted above, the TLC program recommends at least 5-10 grams of soluble fiber per day, but keep in mind, that it’s ok to aim higher (like 10-25 grams/day) to lower your LDL even more!  One tip though – increase your fiber intake gradually because increasing too quickly can lead to stomach upset.

Here are a few easy tips for increasing your soluble fiber intake:

-          Choose oat-based cereals, like oatmeal or oat bran – aim for 3-4 grams of fiber per serving

-          Choose a banana, peach, apple, berries, or other fruit for an easy snack

-          Eat the whole fruit, instead of the juice – you’ll get way more fiber that way!

-          Add black, pinto, or kidney beans or lentils to soups and salads

For more info on the TLC Program, check out this great resource: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/chol_tlc.pdf

Also, check out the Whole Grains Council website for more on how to increase your whole grain intake.  And, make sure to do so during the month of September for a chance to win cool prizes during their “Whole Grains Stampede Sweepstakes”: http://www.wholegrainscouncil.org/get-involved/celebrate-whole-grains-month-in-september

Lastly, don’t forget that you can get your cholesterol levels checked at the Rite Bite – we perform this test using a Cholestech machine, and you can get your results in 5-7 minutes!  For more on this testing, check out: http://theritebite.com/fitnessnutrition/nutrition/healthscreening.htm

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