Thus far we’ve concentrated on the kinds of foods we have to cut back on in terms of fats and cholesterol. But there’s a whole category of foods that can actually lower our cholesterol levels while we enjoy them. They’re the foods rich in soluble fibre.
It all started with a cereal that back in 1984 was virtually unknown. The only place I could find oat bran was in health food stores. It was worth looking for, since I’d read in some obscure medical journals that oat bran could lower cholesterol levels over and above the amount cut down by just eliminating fat.
Here’s the way it works. Oat bran, and some other foods as well, are rich in soluble fibre. That distinguishes oat bran from wheat fibre, which contains primarily insoluble fibre. Both are a healthful part of the diet, but only oat bran can get the cholesterol out of the body. .
Since the fibre is soluble, it forms a gel with water as it passes through the digestive tract. There it binds on to the bile acids that are used in the digestive process. Those bile acids are made from cholesterol, and when they are shunted out of the body in the stool, along with the fibre, the body must make more. It does so by drawing cholesterol out of the blood. Little by little, cholesterol levels fall.
Literally dozens of well-structured research studies have now been done across the country and around the world demonstrating this wonderful property of oat bran and other soluble fibre-rich foods. The results vary, with cholesterol reductions reported anywhere from 3 per cent to 19 per cent beyond that achieved by dietary restriction alone.
Yes, there has been some negative publicity along these lines. One study denied this effect. That study has since been criticised by outstanding researchers at a number of major research institutions. The nay-sayers fed oat bran or wheat cereal to 20 individuals, 16 of whom were women, most of whom were dietarians already eating a healthful diet, and all of whom had perfectly normal cholesterol levels to begin with. The average cholesterol level was 4.8, the average HDL cholesterol in the study group was 1.5. Those people didn’t need any help at all. It was like giving aspirin to people who didn’t have a headache, and then saying it didn’t work.
The final proof of oat bran’s efficacy was published in the 10 April
1991 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers compared oat bran, oatmeal and farina in varying serving sizes in 156 adults with elevated cholesterol levels. Farina had no influence at all. A daily serving of 60 grams of oat bran brought levels of LDL cholesterol down about 16 per cent, and was significantly more effective than the same amount of oatmeal. That’s because the oat bran contains far more of .the cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre than oatmeal. It’s unfortunate that the mass media did not give this carefully controlled research the same exposure given to the negative story a year earlier. But for those of us with a real interest in our cholesterol counts, the research confirmed what we’ve believed all along.
No, it won’t do much good to eat potato chips with a bit of oat bran sprinkled over them. You need a reasonable amount of the cereal to see an effect. That comes out to 60 grams of oat bran daily, either as hot cereal or muffins. You can also buy ready-to-eat cold cereals that work just as well, gram for gram.
But oat bran is just the beginning. You can also get soluble fibre from dried beans and peas. A cup will provide the soluble fibre found in a half cup of oat bran. So each time you enjoy a bowl of split pea soup, or a garbanzo bean dip, or a side dish of black-eyed peas, you’ll be working at lowering your cholesterol.
For more variety, try some rice bran. It’s been shown to have the same cholesterol-lowering properties as oat bran. Try it in some baked goods. Or sprinkle some over frozen yoghurt or one of the new nonfat ice-creams. Two to three tablespoons of rice bran provide the soluble fibre for the day.
But what if you’re tired of oat bran for breakfast, and you’d like a nice omelette made with an egg substitute and an English muffin with jam? There are two concentrated sources of soluble fibre that you can use to supplement such a meal.
Most laxative products are made with psyllium, a seed that’s practically pure soluble fibre. Three teaspoons mixed with water supply all the soluble fibre you’d find in three oat bran muffins, a full day’s requirement.
An alternative to psyllium is guar gum. You may have seen this on various food labels; it’s used as a thickening agent in yoghurt and puddings, for example. Like psyllium, guar gum is a very concentrated source of soluble fibre. Again, three teaspoons mixed with water, milk or fruit juice will do the trick. Researchers at Stanford University have reported marvellous results with this amount of guar gum.
Here are two ways to incorporate it into your diet. Mix a 170 ml glass of orange juice, a teaspoon of honey, and a teaspoon of guar gum in your blender. The result is an Orange Guarius. It’s delicious. Or try mixing 170 ml of skim milk with one teaspoon of guar gum, a ripe banana and a teaspoon of cocoa powder. You’ll have a wonderful, thick chocolate milkshake.
Soluble fibre continues to play an important role in my own program of cholesterol control. I’ve been using it in all its forms for the past several years, and my cholesterol level remains in the perfectly safe range. I think it should be a part of your program as well.
Cardio & Blood/ Cholesterol