Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home

Special Ingredients for a Healthy Heart

While it may seem obvious that reducing the amounts of fat and cholesterol in your diet will reduce the amount of fat and cholesterol in your body, adding certain foods to your diet can also help you to lose weight, reduce your cholesterol, and protect your heart.

Fiber

All fiber comes from plants, and no fiber has nutritional value. That is, the body doesn't absorb fiber. It goes right through the digestive tract. There are two types of fiber -- soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber (sometimes called roughage) passes through the digestive tract without even dissolving. It helps keep the colon working properly. Soluble fiber dissolves into a gooey substance in the intestines that helps prevent fat and cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Another great benefit of fiber is that it makes you feel fuller faster, so you'll likely feel less hungry. Good sources of soluble fiber include cereals such as oatmeal and oat bran, such fruits as bananas, apples, peaches, and berries, and many types of beans and lentils.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are compounds with antioxidant properties found in many fruits and vegetables such as cocoa, tea, purple grape juice, and soy. These foods have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and flavonoids are believed to be the source of this benefit.

Stanols and Sterols

Stanols and sterols block absorption of LDL cholesterol from the digestive tract without affecting HDL or triglycerides. They are extracted from soy beans and tall pine-tree oils and added to various foods such as certain margarines and orange juices.

Nuts

Although nuts have a high fat content, they are low in saturated fat, and have been shown to help lower cholesterol levels. In addition, walnuts contain omega 3 fatty acids and other nutrients not found in other nuts. A diet including walnuts has been shown to improve HDL levels relative to LDL levels in patients with diabetes.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

A group of unsaturated fats found in fatty fish, walnuts, canola oil, and soy beans are being studied to confirm suspected benefits in the prevention and treatment of coronary diseases.