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Foods to Change Your Heart

This month’s newsletter is dedicated to American Heart Month.  Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and woman? According to the CDC, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack and about 600,000 people die from heart disease each year.   This equates to 1 out of every 4 deaths in the U.S. attributable to heart disease.  Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined.

Did you know that you can prevent and control heart disease? With proper nutrition and exercise, you can manage the health of your heart. One of the best ways to maintain a healthy heart is to manage your overall cholesterol levels.  This month’s newsletter will focus on foods that help decrease your overall cholesterol as well as increase your high density lipo-protein levels (HDL). 
Happy Heart Month

Foods to Change Your Heart

Current recommendations are to keep total cholesterol levels <200 mg/dl. The best way to manage your cholesterol levels are to eat healthy wholesome foods, limit saturated fat and sugar intake, eliminate trans fat (partially hydrogenated oils) from your diet, participate in regular physical exercise, keep your weight in a healthy range, and don’t smoke.

Components in foods that have actually been found to help decrease overall cholesterol levels:

Soluble Fibers: Foods rich in soluble fiber help lower cholesterol by attaching and pulling the artery clogging molecules out of the body. It is recommended to consume at least 5 - 10 grams of soluble fiber a day. Foods rich in soluble fiber include: oatmeal, oat bran, amaranth, barley, beans, lentils, dried peas, blackberries, psyllium, eggplant, okra, carrots, sorghum, sweet potatoes, flaxseeds. One cup of oatmeal with 1/2 cup blackberries and 1 Tbsp flaxseeds for breakfast provides approximately 3.5 grams of soluble fiber!

Unsaturated Fats (both mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated): Foods rich in unsaturated fats have a direct impact at lowering LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). Unsaturated fats are fats found in plant foods as well as fatty fish. Generally speaking, unsaturated fats will be found in a liquid form both at room temperature and when chilled. Good sources of unsaturated fats include: nuts such as almonds, walnuts, peanuts, liquid vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, walnut oil, and olive oil, and avocados.

Plant Sterols and Stanols: Naturally occurring plant sterols and stanols actually help to “block” the absorption of cholesterol. To receive the cholesterol lowering benefits of plant sterols and stanols, it is recommended to consume 2g (or 2000 mg) per day. An ounce of almonds contains about 30 mg, 1 Tbsp sesame seeds contains 100 mg, 1 Tbsp Benecol contains 450 mg, and 8 oz Minute Maid Heartwise O.J. contains 1000 mg.

High HDL: While decreasing overall cholesterol is important, research has found a strong link between a healthy heart and an increase in HDL cholesterol. HDL is commonly referred to as “good cholesterol” because of its protective role in plaque build up. HDL helps to remove cholesterol from cells, helping to keep blood flowing through your arteries without build up or blockage. HDL concentration can be improved through exercise, acquiring and maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, niacin supplementation, and an increase in omega 3 intake from wild-caught fish. Low HDL is considered <40 mg/dl for men and <50 mg/dl for women. A level above 60 mg/dl is considered protective. 5 Foods that will help boost HDL include: Avocados Lentils Nuts high in Omega-3 Fatty acids such as walnuts Olive Oil Tomatoes

Cholesterol-Free Quinoa Minestrone Soup

Recipe by Dr. Janet Brill, PhD, R.D. L.D.N., Author of Cholesterol Down

How can you make a protein rich, super nutritious, vegetarian soup? Easy! Add tons of veggies and some quinoa. Quinoa is a whole grain with a high protein content (and a complete protein at that!). In fact, 1 cup of cooked quinoa contains approximately 8 grams of protein, which is more protein than 1 oz of meat or 1 whole egg, and furthermore, quinoa is cholesterol-free unlike animal proteins. To boost your soup’s taste and protein content, be sure to substitute the pasta and rice in grain-based soups with quinoa for a healthier nutrient dense soup, as featured in this week’s recipe, Quinoa Minestrone Soup. Here is a zero cholesterol recipe of Quinoa Minestrone Soup that helps lower cholesterol and is a heart healthy food. A gluten-free, dairy-free vegetarian soup

Yield: 12 cups (1 cup= 1 serving)


  • 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow squash, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 20 baby carrots, chopped
  • 2 cups of yellow corn kernels (fresh, frozen, or canned)
  • 2 cups of tomatoes, diced
  • 2 Tablespoons of dried oregano
  • 2 Tablespoons of dried basil
  • ½ Tablespoon of black pepper
  • 1-15 oz can of kidney beans
  • 1-15 oz can of navy beans
  • 1-28 oz can of chopped tomatoes with no added salt
  • 2 cup of fresh spinach
  • 4 cups of low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup of quinoa, uncooked
  • 2 cups of water
  • Optional: shredded parmesan and Asiago cheese
Directions: In a large pot, add the olive oil, garlic, and onion and cook on medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the yellow squash, zucchini, celery, carrots, corn, tomatoes, oregano, basil, and black pepper and cook for 10 minutes. Add the kidney beans, navy beans, chopped tomatoes, spinach, and broth and continue to cook soup on medium heat. In a small pot, add the quinoa and water. Cook the quinoa until a boil then reduce heat to a simmer until the quinoa absorbs all the water. Add the quinoa to the soup. Cook soup for another 10 minutes or until ready to serve. Optional: Sprinkle individual servings with parmesan and Asiago cheese.

Nutrition Information Per Serving: Calorie: 155 kcal, Fat 2 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Carbohydrate: 28 g, Dietary Fiber: 5g, Protein: 8 g, Sodium: 385 mg



When Your Heart Speaks

“When your heart speaks, take good notes.” 

~Judith Campbell

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More Cholesterol Lowering Tips

  1. Participate in regular physical activity. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day 5 - 6 times a week.Manage your stress. Stress is a big contributor to heart disease. Exercise, mediation, journaling, proper nutrition, and healthy sleep habits are important ways to manage your stress.
  2. Reduce sugar intake. The American Heart Association gives the following recommendations for daily sugar intake: Men: 36 grams or 9 teaspoons Women: 25 grams or 6 teaspoons Children: 12 grams or 3 teaspoons
  3. Limit alcohol intake. Current recommendations are no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. One drink is equivalent to 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, and 1.5 oz hard liquor. While some studies have found health benefits with moderate alcohol consumption, it is important to remember moderation is key. Health risk significantly rises when drinking more than 2 drinks per day for men or 1 drink per day for women.
  4. Eliminate sugary beverages such as soda. Studies have found fructose consumption to be associated with increased LDL and decreased HDL. Although fruits contain fructose, they should not be avoided due to their positive effect on blood lipids.
  5. Discuss with your health care team cholesterol lowering supplements. These supplements have been found to have a positive effect on helping to reduce lipid profile:
  • Chinese red-yeast rice
  • Fish Oil
  • Fiber supplements (such as psyllium husk)
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