Do cheerios lower cholesterol

Condiments: Watch out for high amounts of salt in condiments and sauces. Even small amounts add up fast.

  • Barbecue sauce, low-sodium
  • Ketchup, reduced-sodium
  • Mayonnaise, reduced-fat or nonfat
  • Mustards: whole grain, honey, Dijon, yellow
  • Soy sauce, reduced-sodium
  • Vinegars: rice, red wine, balsamic, apple cider, raspberry. These make delicious salad dressings.

Fats and Cooking Oils: Cut down on butter in your cooking. Instead, use healthier oils, like olive and canola.

  • Margarine, trans-fat-free
  • Nonfat cooking sprays
  • Nonhydrogenated shortening
  • Oils, olive and canola
  • Replacements for fat when baking, such as applesauce, fruit puree, or yogurt
  • Salad dressings, reduced-fat or nonfat

Snacks: Stock your pantry with nuts, dried fruit, and whole wheat products for snacks and meals.

  • Nuts and seeds, assorted, raw (almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds)
  • Breads, tortillas, pitas, whole-grain
  • Crackers, whole-grain, trans-fat-free
  • Dried fruits
  • Popcorn cakes or brown rice cakes
  • Popcorn, plain or light microwave
  • Pretzels, whole-grain
  • Tortilla chips, baked, trans-fat-free

Spices vs. Salt: Too much salt drives up your blood pressure. Instead, add flavor with zesty spices and herbs. Options include:

  • Allspice
  • Basil
  • Bay leaves
  • Black pepper
  • Caraway seeds
  • Cayenne
  • Chili powder
  • Chinese five-spice
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Curry powder
  • Dill
  • Garlic powder
  • Ginger
  • Italian seasoning
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Nutmeg
  • Onion powder
  • Oregano
  • Paprika
  • Parsley
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Sodium-free seasonings

Sweeteners: Cut down on sugar. It’s full of calories that will pack on pounds. Instead, satisfy your sweet tooth with healthier options — although the less you use of any sweeteners, the better.

  • Brown rice syrup for a sweetening alternative in baking
  • Honey (in moderation)
  • Sugar-free or “light” maple syrups

Contents

7-Day High-Fiber Meal Plan: 1,200 Calories

Fiber is a nutrition rock star with some pretty amazing health benefits. Research credits eating more fiber with weight loss, healthier gut bacteria, more regularity in your gut (aka better poops), a healthy heart and decreased risk of diabetes. So, if fiber can do all that, why are 95% of Americans still not getting enough? On average, Americans only eat 16 grams of fiber a day—far from the 28 grams recommended in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Related: 5 Easy Ways to Eat More Fiber

In this 7-day high-fiber meal plan, your meals and snacks for the week are all planned for you to make it easy and delicious to get your fill of fiber every day. The meals and snacks in this plan include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds; not only that, but the foods in each category are known to have the highest fiber content-think chickpeas pear, oatmeal, black beans and chia seeds. Whether you follow this meal plan exactly or just take a few ideas from here and there, you’ll have a much easier time getting the fiber you need to feel better and stay healthy.

If you’re not used to eating high-fiber foods, introduce them into your diet slowly and drink extra water throughout the day. Eating too much fiber, too quickly can lead to stomach cramping. We set this plan at 1,200 calories a day with modifications to bump it up to 1,500 or 2,000 calories, depending on your calorie needs.

Related: How much water should I drink?

How to Meal-Prep Your Week of Meals:

  1. Prepare Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups to have for breakfast and snacks throughout the week.
  2. Assemble Brussels Sprouts Salad with Crunchy Chickpeas to have for lunch on Days 2 through 5.
  3. Make two servings Apple Cinnamon Chia Pudding to have for breakfast on Days 2 & 3.

Day 1

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Breakfast (343 calories, 12 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Really Green Smoothie

A.M. Snack (35 calories, 1 g fiber)

  • 1 clementine

Lunch (314 calories, 11 g fiber)

  • 1 serving White Bean & Avocado Toast
  • 1 small pear

P.M. Snack (105 calories, 2 g fiber)

  • 8 dried walnut halves

Dinner (415 calories, 7 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Roasted Chicken & Winter Squash over Mixed Greens

Daily Totals: 1,211 calories, 52 g protein, 162 g carbohydrate, 38 g fiber, 50 g fat, 1,226 mg sodium

To Make it 1,500 Calories: Add 1/3 cup dry-roasted unsalted almonds to A.M. snack.

To Make it 2,000 Calories: Include all modifications for the 1,500 calorie day, plus increase to 2 servings White Bean & Avocado Toast at lunch, increase to 1/3 cup walnut halves at P.M. snack and add 1/2 an avocado to dinner.

Day 2

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Breakfast (233 calories, 10 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Apple Cinnamon Chia Pudding

A.M. Snack (176 calories, 3 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups

Lunch (337 calories, 13 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Brussels Sprouts Salad with Crunchy Chickpeas

P.M. Snack (77 calories)

  • 1 small apple

Dinner (401 calories, 13 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Hearty Chickpea & Spinach Stew

Daily Totals: 1,224 calories, 155 g protein, 147 g carbohydrate, 43 g fiber, 53 g fat, 1,266 mg sodium

To Make it 1,500 Calories: Add 1 small pear to lunch and 2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter to P.M. snack.

To Make it 2,000 Calories: Include all modifications for the 1,500 calorie day, plus increase to 2 servings Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups at A.M. snack, add 1/2 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt to P.M. snack and add 1 serving Guacamole Chopped Salad to dinner.

Day 3

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  • 1 serving Apple Cinnamon Chia Pudding
  • 1 clementine
  • 1 serving Brussels Sprouts Salad with Crunchy Chickpeas

P.M. Snack (154 calories, 3 g fiber)

  • 20 dry-roasted, unsalted almonds

Dinner (464 calories, 13 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Chicken Fajita Bowls
  • 1/4 cup guacamole, such as Jason Mraz’s Guacamole

Daily Totals: 1,223 calories, 67 g protein, 103 g carbohydrates, 40 g fiber, 68 g fat, 1,115 mg sodium

To Make it 1,500 Calories: Add 1/3 cup dry-roasted unsalted almonds to A.M. snack.

To Make it 2,000 Calories: Include all modifications for the 1,500 calorie day, plus add 1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt to breakfast and add 2 servings Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups to P.M. snack.

Day 4

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Breakfast (259 calories, 3 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups
  • 1/2 cup low-fat12 plain Greek yogurt

A.M. Snack (131 calories, 7 g fiber)

  • 1 large pear
  • 1 serving Brussels Sprouts Salad with Crunchy Chickpeas

P.M. Snack (35 calories, 1 g fiber)

  • 1 clementine

Dinner (449 calories, 8 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Long-Life Noodles with Beef & Chinese Broccoli

Daily Totals: 1,210 calories, 58 g protein, 156 g carbohydrate, 32 g fiber, 50 g fiber, 1,253 mg sodium

To Make it 1,500 Calories: Add 1/3 cup dry-roasted unsalted almonds to P.M. snack.

To Make it 2,000 Calories: Include all modifications for the 1,500 calorie day, plus add 1 whole-wheat English muffin with 1 1/2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter and 1 small apple to breakfast and add 15 dried walnut halves to A.M. snack.

Day 5

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  • 1 serving Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups
  • 1/2 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt

A.M. Snack (77 calories, 1 g fiber)

  • 10 dry-roasted, unsalted almonds
  • 1 serving Brussels Sprouts Salad with Crunchy Chickpeas

P.M. Snack (77 calories, 4 g fiber)

  • 1 small apple

Dinner (465 calories, 10 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Slow-Cooker Turkey Chili with Butternut Squash
  • 2 cups mixed greens
  • 1/4 of an avocado, sliced
  • 1 serving Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette with Shallots

Top mixed greens with sliced avocado and vinaigrette.

Daily Totals: 1,215 calories, 57 g protein, 129 g carbohydrate, 39 g fiber, 59 g fat, 1,489 mg sodium

To Make it 1,500 Calories: Add 1 medium apple to lunch and add 2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter to P.M. snack.

To Make it 2,000 Calories: Include all modifications for the 1,500 calorie day, plus increase to 2 servings Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups and 1 1/4 cups yogurt at breakfast and increase to 1/3 cup dry-roasted unsalted almonds to A.M. snack.

Meal-Prep Tip: reserve 2 servings Slow-Cooker Turkey Chili with Butternut Squash to have for lunch on Days 6 & 7.

Day 6

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  • 1 serving Really Green Smoothie

A.M. Snack (16 calories, 1 g fiber)

  • 1 cup sliced cucumber
  • Pinch of salt & pepper

Lunch (311 calories, 14 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Slow-Cooker Turkey Chili with Butternut Squash
  • 1 clementine

P.M. Snack (37 calories, 2 g fiber)

  • 1 medium bell pepper, sliced

Dinner (505 calories, 11 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Butternut Squash Alfredo with Chicken & Spinach

Daily Totals: 1,212 calories, 71 g protein, 148 g carbohydrate, 40 g fiber, 42 g fat, 1,718 mg sodium

To Make it 1,500 Calories: Add 1 whole-wheat English muffin with 1 1/2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter to breakfast.

To Make it 2,000 Calories: Include all modifications for the 1,500 calorie day, plus add 1/4 hummus and 1/3 cup dry-roasted unsalted almonds to A.M. snack and add 1/4 cup guacamole to P.M. snack.

Meal-Prep Tip: marinated the pork for Italian Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Vegetables & Quinoa so it’s ready for dinner tomorrow.

Day 7

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  • 1 serving Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups
  • 1/2 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt

A.M. Snack (37 calories, 2 g fiber)

  • 1 clementine
  • 1 serving Slow-Cooker Turkey Chili with Butternut Squash
  • 1 clementine

P.M. Snack (101 calories, 6 g fiber)

  • 1 medium pear

Dinner (490 calories, 8 g fiber)

  • 1 serving Italian Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Vegetables & Quinoa

Daily Totals: 1,198 calories, 72 g protein, 153 g carbohydrate, 33 g fiber, 37 g fiber, 1,600 mg sodium

To Make it 1,500 Calories: Add 1/3 cup dry-roasted unsalted almonds to P.M. snack.

To Make it 2,000 Calories: Include all modifications for the 1,500 calorie day, plus increase to 2 servings Baked Banana-Nut Oatmeal Cups and increase to 1 cup yogurt at breakfast and add 1 whole-wheat English muffin with 1 1/2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter to A.M. snack.

Examples: Dr. Oz, Michael Roizen, ChefMD®, Bob Greene. The belief that eating fat and cholesterol makes us fat and unhealthy became popular in the 1970’s. Find out if it’s true…

STRATEGY: Low fat, low cholesterol, high fiber
FOODS: All kinds of foods

POTENTIAL BENEFITS:

Sweets and snack foods allowed (psychologically reassuring)

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS:

These diets tend to be high in carbohydrates of all kinds, and processed/artificial foods are usually allowed. These are typically high-insulin diets, which have the potential to put health at risk in a number of ways, especially for carbohydrate-sensitive people.

This diet is not necessarily designed for weight management, although many people try to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight by using a low-calorie version of this diet. This diet is low in fat, low in cholesterol, low in meat, and high in fiber. It includes all kinds of modern foods, such as breads, cakes, cookies, etc., but the idea is that you should choose high-fiber, low-fat versions of these types of foods. Typical recommendations include:

  • Choosing a low-fat bran muffin instead of a pastry
  • Choosing skim milk or nonfat yogurt instead of whole milk or full-fat yogurt
  • Choosing egg whites over whole eggs
  • Choosing whole wheat bread over white bread
  • Choosing vegetable oils over butter
  • Choosing fruit juice over soda
  • Choosing a low-fat pasta dish over a steak

Unfortunately, these diets don’t pay much attention to sugar, flour, and other refined carbohydrates, since the primary focus is on reducing meat, fat, and cholesterol, which proponents of these diets believe are the much worse for your health than carbohydrates are. The belief that fat clogs your arteries and makes you fat is a really tough one to let go of, because it sounds so logical. However, if you wander around the rest of this website you will find plenty of information pointing out the many health dangers of refined carbohydrates, and plenty of information supporting the notion that meat, animal fat, and cholesterol are not dangerous. In fact, low-fat dairy products may actually be less healthy than high-fat dairy products because they cause insulin levels to spike.

BOTTOM LINE ABOUT LOW FAT / LOW CHOLESTEROL DIETS:

A low-fat/low cholesterol diet does have some advantages over the “Western” or Standard American Diet (SAD) —not because it is low in fat or cholesterol, but because it emphasizes high-fiber foods, which can be healthier than low-fiber alternatives. For example, depending on the choices you make, this diet can be higher in whole fruits and vegetables and lower in refined grains (such as white flour) and junk food than the typical Western diet.

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Switching to oatmeal or Cheerios is one of the first nutritional changes that many people make when diagnosed with high cholesterol, and while they do contain soluble fiber, the National Institutes of Health recommends 10 to 25 grams of soluble fiber – daily – to reduce bad LDL cholesterol.

A serving of Cheerios has just a single gram of soluble fiber — that means it could take 10-plus bowls of Cheerios — daily — to effectively lower LDL cholesterol. Oatmeal is a little better, with 2 grams of soluble fiber per serving – but still… five bowls??

So while there’s nothing wrong with incorporating oats or Cheerios, there are plenty of other foods that give us far more bang for our buck when it comes to adding more cholesterol-reducing soluble fiber into our diets.

Ground psyllium (the main ingredient in Metamucil) ranks highest, with 6 grams of soluble fiber per tablespoon.

And not to worry if Metamucil isn’t up your alley — a cup of beans (like Blue Runner’s red, black, or white beans) provides 4 to 6 grams of soluble fiber.

And if you’re a fan of oatmeal in the morning, try Kashi Go Lean Instant Hot Cereal, with 5 grams of soluble fiber per packet – plus it has added protein for more staying power as well.

Plant-based compounds called plant sterols and stanols can also improve cholesterol levels. They’re added to foods like Smart Balance Heart Smart milk and buttery spreads like Benecol and Smart Balance Heart Smart, with a recommended dose of 2 to 4 servings daily.

Soy protein is another option that may reduce bad LDL cholesterol. Aim for at least 25 grams of soy protein daily, with common sources including soy protein powder, soy milk, and soy-based meat substitutes.

Along with nutritional changes, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight will help to improve your cholesterol – just one more reason to get moving and keep your weight in check!

5 Myths about Cholesterol

New information may change what you think you know about HDL and LDL cholesterol and heart health.

A study published recently in The Lancet stated that high HDL might not directly protect against disease. This was noteworthy because high HDL cholesterol is often touted as protective against heart disease, while high LDL cholesterol is linked to higher rates of heart disease. So the news that this might not always be true begs the question: what other cholesterol myths are out there? Here are 5 myths about cholesterol.

-Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D.

Watch: See how to reduce your cholesterol

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Myth #1: Having High HDL (the “Good” Cholesterol) Directly Protects You Against Heart Disease.

This one’s a little tricky. Although it’s long been thought that having high HDL is protective, a new study in The Lancet suggests that’s not necessarily the case across the board. The study followed people who had genetic markers for high HDL (and had higher HDL cholesterol), but had other similar risk factors for a heart attack as people without the gene. Although it was thought that having higher HDL would confer a 13% lower risk against a heart attack, researchers found that the higher HDL group didn’t have lower rates of heart disease than people not genetically predisposed to high HDL. That doesn’t mean high HDL isn’t still a good thing-it’s just that why your HDL is high probably makes a difference. Healthy habits, such as exercise and eating enough fiber and healthy monounsaturated fats, happen to raise your HDL and lower your risk of heart disease.

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Myth #2: You Shouldn’t Eat Shrimp (and Other High-Cholesterol Foods) If You Have High Cholesterol.

It used to be, if you had high cholesterol, you were supposed to avoid foods containing dietary cholesterol at all costs. That’s no longer the case. We now know that saturated fat has a bigger impact on raising your cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol. So it’s fine to eat eggs, shrimp and other cholesterol-containing foods in moderate amounts as part of a healthy diet.

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Myth #3: Potato Chips Contain Cholesterol.

Dietary cholesterol comes only from animal foods. Potato chips, along with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, have no cholesterol. However, be sure to check the nutrition facts label on the potato chip bag for saturated fat, which causes your body to produce more cholesterol. Potato chips are also high in calories. Lastly, check the serving size and do the math: if you eat 2 servings’ worth, you’ve taken in double the calories and saturated fat.

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Myth #4: Toasted Oat Cereal Is One of the Best Cholesterol-Lowering Foods.

You’ve seen the claims on those yellow boxes of Cheerios that this toasted-oat cereal may reduce your cholesterol. And while it’s true that this and other toasted-oat cereals do have some soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, you can get even higher doses from whole foods like oatmeal, Brussels sprouts, bananas, pears, beans and citrus fruit. By the way, if you enjoy this kind of cereal make sure to get extra fiber at breakfast by topping it with fruit.

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Myth #5: If You’re Trying to Lower Your Cholesterol, Eat More Soy.

Research suggests that soy protein has only a small effect, if any, on lipid levels. The real benefit may be related to the use of soy as a substitute for high-saturated-fat foods. Some research shows that people can lower their cholesterol by eating a diet rich in soy protein, fiber, plant sterols and nuts, such as almonds.

A cholesterol truth to end on: Take actions that naturally lower your LDL and raise your HDL: regular exercise, eating monounsaturated fats (like in olive and canola oil, plus avocados) in place of saturated and trans fats and eating more soluble fiber can all help.

More Information on Cholesterol & Heart Health

  • Healthy Recipes to Satisfy Junk Food Cravings
  • Heart-Healthy Dinner Recipes to Help Lower Cholesterol
  • High Cholesterol Diet Guidelines
  • Improve Cholesterol Levels with These 7 Super Foods
  • The Worst and Best Things to Eat for Your Heart

It takes more than breakfast to lower cholesterol

If you believe what you read in the cereal aisle, the right breakfast choice can lower your cholesterol — and cut your risk of heart disease.

For the last few years, Cheerios boxes and ads have promoted the cereal’s ability to help lower cholesterol; last year, for a time, ads promised the cereal could lower cholesterol by a very specific 4% in six weeks. (Cereal maker General Mills removed that particular claim from boxes after receiving a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration in May stating that the claim had not been approved by the agency.) A few other products, including Quaker Oatmeal Squares and Kashi Heart to Heart, claim to be able to help lower cholesterol too.

Those claims are based on the fact that the cereals are made from whole grain oats and oat bran, sources of a type of soluble fiber called oat beta-glucan, which has been linked to reduced levels of LDL, or bad, cholesterol.

But this doesn’t mean your breakfast cereal can replace your Lipitor — or take the place of the broader dietary changes necessary to lower cholesterol.

The soluble fiber in some breakfast cereals can help lower cholesterol levels, but it would likely take more than a single bowl in the morning to get the desired effect, says Dr. Leslie Cho, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Cardiovascular Center in Cleveland.

It takes at least 3 grams of soluble fiber per day to reduce cholesterol, Cho says. To get that amount from a breakfast cereal, one would generally have to consume 3 cups — that’s three servings — a day.

“That’s a lot of soluble fiber, but it comes at a cost of lots of sugar,” says Cho. Regular Cheerios provides 1 gram of soluble fiber and 1 gram of sugar per serving; Honey Nut Cheerios provides less than 1 gram of soluble fiber and 9 grams of sugar. (Sugar takes its own toll on heart health by contributing to weight gain and increasing the risk of diabetes, Cho says.)

Further, other foods are richer sources of soluble fiber. A half-cup of oatmeal provides 2 grams of the fiber, an orange provides 1.7 grams, and a serving of black beans provides 2.4 grams.

Fiber is generally divided into two types. Insoluble fiber, found in whole wheat, nuts and vegetables, resists digestion and helps prevent constipation. Soluble fiber, found in oats, beans and legumes, is dissolvable in water and in recent decades has been linked to lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease.

The data

A review of the evidence on soluble fiber, published in the Journal of Family Practice in 2006, concluded that eating 5 grams to 10 grams of soluble fiber per day was associated with a 10% to 15% reduction in LDL levels — which, the researchers estimated, could lower heart disease risk by 10% to 15%.

Other studies have assessed the effects of the specific types of soluble fiber, including oat beta-glucans, psyllium (a seed husk found in many over-the-counter laxatives), pectin (a carbohydrate found in many fruits and vegetables) and guar gum (derived from the beans of the guar plant).

In 1999, Harvard University researchers published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a review of the evidence from 67 studies on the link between intake of different types of soluble fiber and blood cholesterol levels. The studies on oat products showed that getting an average of 5 grams of soluble fiber from oats for an average of 39 days reduced LDL levels by about 3.6%.

Oats were not the most powerful cholesterol-reducers in the studies reviewed; psyllium lowered cholesterol levels about 6% among people who consumed an average of 9 grams for an average of 53 days, and an average of 4.7 grams of pectin consumed for an average of 34 days reduced cholesterol levels roughly 6.5%.

A more recent review, published in the journal Nutrition Reviews last year, looked at both the overall effects of fiber intake and the effects of specific types of soluble fiber on cholesterol levels and heart health. Pooling results from seven large studies that followed a total of 158,000 adults, the researchers found that heart disease prevalence was 29% lower in the group with the highest total dietary fiber intake compared to the lowest. But, of course, this could have been due to the overall healthier lifestyles among those who tend to eat high-fiber diets.

Researchers also found that consuming an average of about 6 grams of soluble fiber per day for about four to eight weeks reduced LDL by just over 5%; the reduction was similar when they looked specifically at studies on oat beta-glucan. The review was partially funded by the National Fiber Council.

A few studies, some published, some not, have looked specifically at the cholesterol-lowering effects of oat cereals, showing a 1% to 5% reduction in cholesterol over several weeks, says Dr. David Heber, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Human Nutrition at UCLA. “These are small reductions,” Heber says. Reductions of 1% in particular, he said, are “not really significant from a medical standpoint.”

Overall diet

Adult men need 30 to 38 grams of total fiber per day, while women need 21 to 25 grams, according to the Institute of Medicine. All adults need about 5 of those grams to be soluble fiber, says Heber. The American Heart Assn. puts oatmeal, beans, peas, citrus fruits and strawberries on its list of foods high in soluble fiber.

Although soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol, it should not be the only dietary change people with high cholesterol make, says Sara Wolf, clinical manager of outpatient dietetics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

In addition to eating more fiber-rich whole grains, fruits and vegetables, Mayo patients are counseled to make a number of nutritional improvements, such as consuming foods high in polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, she says.

Cho adds that no single food or food component can reduce cholesterol in the absence of overall dietary change. “If you want to lower your cholesterol, you have to limit dairy, red meat and eggs,” says Cho.

Cho also recommends eating all foods in moderation, reading food packaging labels and using common sense. For instance, she says, “if you’re eating Cheerios to lower your cholesterol, it makes no sense to eat them with whole fat milk.”

Does Metamucil lower LDL cholesterol?

Yes. But before we go any further, it’s important to understand what Metamucil is.

Metamucil contains powdered psyllium husks, a rich source of soluble fiber.

Psyllium comes from a shrub-like herb called Plantago ovata that grows worldwide but is most common in Asia. Each plant can produce up to 15,000 tiny seeds, from which psyllium husk is derived.

Metamucil contains powdered psyllium husks, a rich source of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is known to lower LDL cholesterol. Psyllium comes from a shrub-like herb called Plantago ovata. (Image courtesy of wikimedia.org

Metamucil is the best-known psyllium product, but psyllium is also available in less expensive store brands of laxatives.

Psyllium can help relieve both constipation and diarrhea, and is used to treat irritable bowel syndrome and other intestinal problems. Psyllium may also help regulate blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Studies have shown that psyllium can lower both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

How much does Metamucil lower LDL cholesterol?

In a meta-analysis1 of 8 studies involving 384 people with high cholesterol levels who had been following a low-fat diet for several weeks, adding psyllium supplementation lowered LDL cholesterol an additional 7%.

Another well-designed study,2 from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky, found that 197 people who had been taking psyllium for 6 months netted LDL cholesterol levels that were 6.7% lower than the 51 people in the placebo group.

What dosage should I take?

In general, each 2 grams of soluble fiber added to a diet will lower LDL cholesterol by about 1%, or maybe a bit more.

In the above meta-analysis, the dosage used to achieve the 7% drop in LDL was 10.2 grams of psyllium daily, which is the equivalent of about 3 teaspoons daily of Sugar-Free Metamucil.

The dosage in the Veterans Affairs study was the same – 10.2 grams daily.

If you’re purchasing fiber supplement brands other than Metamucil, make sure they’re psyllium-based, not cellulose-based.

When should I take Metamucil?

To get the cholesterol-lowering benefit, take 1 teaspoon of Sugar-Free Metamucil with a full glass of water no more than 15 to 30 minutes before a meal.

The psyllium needs to be in your GI tract the same time as your meal. Once it reaches your stomach, it starts dissolving into a gel-like substance. It binds with the bile acids that form cholesterol, and in doing so, “mops” up cholesterol. More cholesterol ends up in your bowel movements, and less ends up being reabsorbed in the blood.

A diet full of whole, naturally-fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans), and whole grains is far more effective than supplements like Metamucil for lowering LDL cholesterol.

Are there any side effects to taking Metamucil?

It’s generally a good idea to add Metamucil to your diet gradually. Otherwise, digestive complications like stomach pain, gas, constipation, and diarrhea may occur.

Is Metamucil the best natural, prescription-free remedy for high cholesterol levels?

No. “Don’t ever think that Metamucil is a one-shot deal – something that in and of itself can miraculously clear up cholesterol problems,” points out Dr. Jay Kenney, Nutrition Researcher and Educator at the Pritikin Longevity Center.

“What’s most effective in terms of improving LDL blood cholesterol and heart health is comprehensive lifestyle changes, particularly dietary changes, that involve eating a lot more fiber-rich, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans), and whole grains, and a lot less saturated fat and trans fat.”

Foods with saturated fat include butter, fatty flesh like red meat, full-fat and low-fat dairy products, palm oil, and coconut oil.

Trans fats are found in some margarines and many snack (junk) foods like fries, donuts, cookies, and crackers. If you see partially hydrogenated fat or oil in the Ingredient List of a food label, that food has trans fats.

Other lifestyle changes that help reduce total and LDL cholesterol include:

  • Losing excess weight
  • Eating fewer refined sugars (especially fructose)
  • Eating fewer refined grains (such as white flour)
  • Exercising regularly

Pritikin Program

A lifestyle plan that embodies all the above dietary and other lifestyle recommendations is the Pritikin Program.

The impact of the Pritikin eating and exercise program on total and LDL cholesterol levels is profound. In peer-reviewed research3 on more than 4,500 men and women, the Pritikin lifestyle was found to lower total cholesterol by 23% and LDL cholesterol by 23%, and within 3 week’s time.

Among children (both normal and overweight) with high cholesterol levels, recent research has found that adopting the Pritikin Program reduced LDL cholesterol by 25% in the overweight youth and 29% in the normal-weight youth in 2 weeks.4

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“The other benefit of a Pritikin lifestyle is that you’re not only lowering your LDL cholesterol, you’re improving many other things that affect your heart, including your blood pressure, glucose levels, triglyceride levels, and body weight. All these factors add up to optimal protection against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems,” summarizes Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami. The health resort has been teaching the Pritikin Program since 1975.

“And you just feel better, too,” smiles dietitian Kimberly Gomer. “There’s no way you’d ever get all these benefits from a few spoonfuls of Metamucil every day.”

More Sources of Soluble Fiber

Keep in mind, too, that psyllium is not the only fiber that helps lower cholesterol levels. All soluble fibers can help reduce LDL cholesterol. Foods naturally rich in soluble fiber include:

  • Beans and peas (legumes) – all beans, such as pinto beans, red beans, garbanzo beans, and soybeans (edamame)
  • Yams, plus sweet potatoes and other potatoes
  • Oats, such as oatmeal and oat bran
  • Barley
  • Berries – all berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries
  • Vegetables such as carrots, beets, okra, and eggplant

The Pritikin Eating Plan recommends all the above soluble-fiber-rich foods.

What about a combination of Metamucil with a healthy lifestyle like Pritikin?

That’s certainly an option. Several studies have found that psyllium therapy is an effective adjunct to healthy dietary recommendations like the Pritikin Eating Plan.

In one study,5 for example, researchers divided overweight and obese individuals into 4 different groups:

  • Group 1 followed a healthy, fiber-rich diet.
  • Group 2 ate their normal diet but added a psyllium supplement.
  • Group 3 consumed a healthy, fiber-rich diet plus the psyllium supplement.
  • Group 4 (the control group) simply swallowed a placebo.

After 3 months, the scientists found that adding psyllium fiber supplementation to a normal diet was sufficient to obtain beneficial effects in metabolic risk factors like cholesterol and glucose levels. However, a psyllium supplement plus a healthy, fiber-rich diet “provided the greatest improvements in metabolic syndrome risk factors,” concluded the authors.

Plant Sterols

Other non-prescription sources that researchers have found helpful in lowering blood cholesterol are plant sterols and stanols.

Plant sterols and stanols are naturally occurring in whole plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, but are also available in fortified foods (everything from orange juice to margarines) as well as supplements, such as Cholest-Off.

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Among these products, a supplement like Cholest-Off is preferable over the fortified foods because with the Cholest-Off you’re getting just the sterols and stanols, not the extra calories, fats, salt, and sugars of most foods enriched with plant sterols.

In 2003, scientists at the University of Toronto studied the effects of a dietary plan based on a “portfolio” of cholesterol-lowering foods,6 particularly whole foods naturally rich in soluble fiber but also a few servings daily of foods fortified with plant sterols. They found that the diet was just as effective as statins in lowering LDL cholesterol.

Summing Up…

Does Metamucil lower LDL cholesterol? Yes. Does a healthy lifestyle like the Pritikin Program do a much better job of lowering LDL cholesterol? Absolutely.

Bottom Line: “Don’t settle for the piecemeal approach, like taking a few teaspoons of Metamucil daily, and doing little else to improve your heart health. Piecemeal approaches will likely give you piecemeal results,” counsels Dr. Ronald Scheib, MD, FACC, cardiologist and Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center.

“Achieving small benefits is perfectly fine for many endeavors in life, but this is your heart. You want the biggest and best benefits there are. You want a lifestyle like Pritikin that can alter dramatically your risk of suffering a heart attack.”

If your LDL levels are still high after trying a lifestyle like Pritikin in combination with supplements like Metamucil and Cholest-Off, “do talk to your doctor about adding cholesterol-lowering medications like statins,” recommends Dr. Scheib.

“The use of medication, when appropriate, can be beneficial, but it should be an adjunct to lifestyle rather than replace our personal responsibility for our own health.”

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Cholesterol-Lowering Supplements: What Works, What Doesn’t

If you’re looking for an all-natural way to lower your cholesterol—in addition to watching what you eat and exercising—there are plenty of dietary supplements on the market that claim to do the trick. Each year seems to bring a new alternative remedy—garlic, ginseng, or red yeast rice, for example—that users tout as the next best thing to get cholesterol under control.

But just because your Uncle Jack says a supplement worked miracles on his cholesterol doesn’t mean it will work for you. In fact, his success may be due to a placebo effect or a diet overhaul he neglected to mention.

Though not always perfect, scientific studies are the best way to determine if nonprescription remedies really work. Below, we break down what the research does—and doesn’t —say about the benefits of the most popular alternative remedies for lowering cholesterol.

To see what these supplements look like, view this slideshow.

Artichoke leaf extract

• What it is: The dried extract of the artichoke leaf is also known as Cynara scolymus.

• The evidence: In 2000, German researchers performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial using nearly 150 adults with total cholesterol over 280—well into what the American Heart Association (AHA) considers “high risk” territory. The participants who took an artichoke supplement for six weeks saw their levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, fall by 23%, on average, compared to just 6% in the placebo group.

These are promising numbers, but they havent been replicated. A more recent, three-month trial of similar design found that total cholesterol fell by an average of 4% among participants taking artichoke leaf extract, but the researchers found no measurable impact on either LDL or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as good cholesterol. They suggested that differences in the health of the participants and the potency of the supplements—the patients in the second study received a dose about 30% smaller—could explain the discrepancy between the results of the two studies.

• The bottom line: There have been very few quality studies conducted on artichoke leaf extract, and the mixed results suggest that more evidence is needed to confirm its effect on cholesterol. Dont expect your LDL to plummet if you take artichoke supplements.

Fenugreek

• What it is: Fenugreek is a seed (often ground into a powder) that has been used since the days of ancient Egypt and is available in capsule form.

• The evidence: Several studies from the 1990s have reported that, in high doses, various fenugreek seed preparations can lower total cholesterol and LDL, in some cases dramatically. (One study recorded an LDL drop of 38%.) Almost without exception, however, the studies have been small and of poor quality, which casts some doubt on the validity of the results.

Fenugreek contains a significant amount of dietary fiber (anywhere from 20% to 50%, analyses have shown), and some experts speculate that the purported cholesterol-lowering effect of fenugreek may in fact be attributed largely to its fiber content.

• The bottom line: Despite the studies frequently cited as proof of fenugreeks ability to lower cholesterol, there is not enough evidence to support its use.

Fiber

• What it is: Soluble fiber is a type of dietary fiber found in oats, barley, bran, peas, and citrus fruits, as well as in dietary supplements. (Though it is good for the heart in other ways, insoluble fiber does not affect blood cholesterol.)

• The evidence: In 1999, a team of Harvard Medical School researchers conducted a meta-analysis of nearly 70 clinical trials that examined the effect of soluble fiber on cholesterol levels. High soluble fiber intake was associated with reductions in both LDL and total cholesterol in 60% to 70% of the studies they examined. For each gram of soluble fiber that the participants of the various studies added to their daily diet, their LDL levels fell by about 2 points. (The average time frame was seven weeks.)

The amount of fiber youd need to eat to significantly lower your LDL is a bit unwieldy. Most people eat far less than the 25 grams of dietary fiber recommended as a minimum by most health organizations—and only about 20% of your total fiber intake is likely to be soluble. (Eating three bowls of oatmeal a day will only yield about 3 grams of soluble fiber, according to the Harvard researchers.) Taking daily fiber supplements can help, but they can cause some gastrointestinal side effects if taken regularly and can interfere with some prescription medications.

• The bottom line: A diet high in soluble fiber can lower your LDL. The effect is likely to be relatively modest, however, and loading up on soluble fiber may be impractical.
Fish oil

• What it is: Fish is rich in two heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DPA. In concentrated form, these fatty acids are the main ingredients in fish oil supplements, which are usually sold as gel capsules.

• The evidence: In clinical trials using relatively high doses (3 grams or more), fish oil has been shown to lower triglyceride levels—the third component of your total cholesterol number—by around 10% to 30%. (The higher your triglyceride levels, the more effective it is.) Fish oil doesnt lower LDL, however. The supplements actually tend to cause a slight rise in LDL, although the form this additional LDL takes is thought to be less damaging to the arteries.

High triglyceride levels have been associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, but lowering them is not as important as lowering LDL. In fact, some experts believe that triglycerides are a sign, rather than a cause, of heart disease risk.

• The bottom line: Fish oil lowers triglycerides, especially in people with high triglycerides. The American Heart Association recommends that people who need to lower their triglycerides should, in consultation with their doctor, take 2 to 4 grams of fish oil a day; people with heart disease should consume about 1 gram a day of EPA and DPA (combined), preferably by eating fatty fish such as salmon.

Garlic

• What it is: Garlic is member of the onion family that is available as an oil, extract, or pill (in addition to its natural state).

• The evidence: In a 2000 report on garlics impact on cardiovascular risk factors, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that garlic caused a small but measurable drop in both LDL and total cholesterol, but only in the short term (three months).

Subsequent research hasnt been encouraging, however. A high-quality 2007 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine compared raw garlic and commercial garlic supplements over a six-month period and found no measurable effects of the various garlic forms on total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, or triglyceride levels versus placebo. The following year, a meta-analysis that included only randomized, placebo-controlled trials also concluded that garlic has no effect on cholesterol.

• The bottom line: Though garlic may help lower LDL temporarily, its ability to meaningfully affect cholesterol levels is questionable at best.

Ginseng

• What it is: Ginseng is an herb native to Asia that has been used in traditional medicine for centuries and is now sold as capsules.

• The evidence: The research on ginseng and cholesterol is mixed but unconvincing. In a comprehensive 2005 review, a team of Harvard Medical School researchers noted that several studies had found a beneficial effect from ginseng on one or more cholesterol components. But most of the studies were small, only a few were randomized, and none were blinded or placebo-controlled. In one study, the researchers found a drop of 45% in LDL levels and a rise in HDL of 44%—but it wasn’t controlled, included only eight participants, and was funded by a Korean manufacturer of ginseng products.

• The bottom line: Though the results of the nonrandomized studies cant be ignored, there isn’t enough to evidence to support the use of ginseng to lower cholesterol.

Guggul

• What it is: A tree-resin extract, long used in Ayurvedic medicine, guggul contains plant sterols (guggulsterones) and is available in capsule form.

• The evidence: As with ginseng, the research on guggul and cholesterol is sketchy. Early studies reported reductions in total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides of 10% or more, but most of the studies were small and flawed. Then, in 2003, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published a randomized controlled trial of more than 100 people with high cholesterol—the first guggul study conducted in the U.S.—in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They found that guggul had no measurable effect on total cholesterol, HDL, or triglycerides—and that it caused an increase in LDL of about 5%. (LDL levels in the placebo group fell by roughly the same amount.)

• The bottom line: The 2003 JAMA study was a black eye for guggul. More research is needed, but for now there is not enough evidence to justify using guggul to lower cholesterol. Plus, some research has found that 20% of Ayurvedic medicines may be contaminated with lead or other toxins.

Niacin

• What it is: Niacin is a B vitamin (also known as nicotinic acid) that occurs naturally in meat, fish, and dairy. Its also available as a capsule.

• The evidence: Experts have known for decades that niacin helps lower cholesterol. Large trials—most notably a six-year study of more than 1,100 people conducted in the 1970s—have found that niacin can cause significant decreases in total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides. But its most notable effect is on HDL: Research shows that niacin can raise HDL levels by up to 35%. (In part, for this reason, niacin is commonly used in addition to statins, which lower LDL.)

The catch is that it only has this effect at high doses of 2 grams to 3 grams a day, a dose that is typically taken as an extended-release prescription drug (such as Niaspan). Niacin is available as an over-the-counter supplement in extended-release doses of 500 milligrams or more, but consistently taking large amounts of niacin can result in side effects ranging from skin flushing to liver damage.

• The bottom line: Niacin boosts HDL, but you shouldnt take it without consulting a doctor. The AHA warns that niacin supplements should not be taken in lieu of a prescription, due to the potentially serious side effects.

Red yeast rice

• What it is: Red yeast rice is a fungus that grows on rice and contains small amounts of a naturally occurring form of lovastatin, a type of statin that is also found in prescription medications.

• The evidence: Compared to that of most dietary supplements, the evidence of red yeast rices efficacy is quite strong—which isnt entirely surprising, given that red yeast rice is, in effect, a low-dose statin. In studies over the years (including in several high-quality trials), various red yeast rice preparations have been shown to lower LDL by around 20% to 30%, comparable to a prescription statin.

More recent studies have backed up these results. In the most recent trial, a 2009 study of patients who had stopped taking statins due to muscle pain, red yeast rice capsules lowered total cholesterol and LDL by 15% and 21%, respectively (compared to 5% and 9% for placebo).

• The bottom line: Red yeast rice is a potentially effective way to lower cholesterol, but its potency makes some experts wary—and suspicious. The amount of lovastatin in red yeast rice pills varies widely across brands—so much so that some brands appear to be spiked with lovastatin, according to an analysis performed by a consumer watchdog group. Inadvertently ingesting too much of a statin can cause side effects (such as muscle pain), and due to the safety concerns, experts discourage using off-the-shelf red yeast rice.

Soy protein

• What it is: Soy protein is found in soy foods such as tofu, edamame, and soy milk. It is also sold as a powder in nutrition stores.

• The evidence: Ten years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began to allow labels on certain foods that contained soy; the labels said soy protein was low in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, and it could help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL.

Soy consumption in the U.S. exploded, but since then, research has found that the effect of soy protein on LDL is relatively modest. A 2006 review by the American Heart Associations nutrition committee found that an average consumption of 50 grams of soy protein a day—twice as much as the FDA says is necessary to reduce the risk of heart disease—resulted in an average drop in LDL of just 3%. Nor did soy intake cause HDL levels to rise significantly.

• The bottom line: Soy protein does lower LDL, but only slightly. The size of the effect seems to have been overstated.

Fiber and Cholesterol

What is fiber?
Fiber is a substance found only in plants, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. The part of the plant fiber that you eat is called dietary fiber and is an important part of a healthy diet. Dietary fiber is made up of two make types – insoluble and soluble.

What is the difference between insoluble and soluble fiber?
Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid, while insoluble fiber does not. Insoluble fiber passes through your digestive tract largely intact. Both types of fiber are important in the diet and provide benefits to the digestive system by helping to maintain regularity. Soluble fiber has some additional benefits to heart-health.

What are some good sources of soluble fiber?
Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, certain fruits, and psyllium. Psyllium is grain that is found in some cereal products, in certain dietary supplements, and in certain bulk fiber laxatives. Read labels carefully to check for the addition of psyllium.

What are the benefits of soluble fiber?
In addition to the digestive system benefits mentioned above, soluble fiber has been scientifically proven to reduce blood cholesterol levels, which may help reduce your risk of heart disease. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration authorized food companies to use a health claim for soluble fiber from both psyllium and oats. For example, the claim for psyllium states, “Soluble fiber from foods with psyllium husk, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Overall, how much fiber should I eat and how much soluble fiber do I need?
Americans should eat 20-35 grams of fiber each day, including both soluble and insoluble fiber. However, the average American eats 12-17 grams of fiber a day. Only about 1/4 of this is soluble fiber; therefore, the average American is eating only 3-4 grams of soluble fiber – below the recommended amount of 5-10 grams. Eating 3 grams a day of soluble fiber from oats or 7 grams a day of soluble fiber from psyllium has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels.

Quick Ways to Fit Fiber In

  • Eat foods from all five food groups. Eat a variety of foods from each group.
  • Remember breakfast. A perfect time to enjoy fiber-rich foods and fuel your body for the day ahead. Eat oatmeal or other whole-grain cereals.
  • Pick high-fiber snacks. When you need a quick energy boost during the day, reach for a high fiber treat. Popcorn, fresh fruit, raw vegetables, or nuts are convenient and healthful choices.
  • “Fiberize” your cooking style. Substitute higher-fiber ingredients in recipes. Swap up to 1/3 of the flour with quick or old-fashioned oats when you bake. Add extra vegetables to casseroles, soups, salads, and pasta dishes. Use brown rice instead of white rice.
  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. When possible, eat the skin – it provides fiber, too!

Source: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information: www.eatright.org

Do you have high cholesterol? Increase your fiber!

Do you have high blood pressure? Increase your fiber!

Are you overweight? Increase your fiber!

What is it with fiber (also known as roughage)? It seems to play a role in just about all our health problems. Well, as far as blood pressure and cholesterol go, dietary fiber binds to cholesterol in circulation and helps remove it from the body. Research has shown that for every one to two grams of daily soluble fiber intake, LDL (bad) cholesterol is lowered by one percent. On the weight control side of things, fiber increases satiety (how full you feel), aiding efforts to lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight.

Here are four things you need to know to make dietary fiber work for you:

1. There are two types of fiber

One type is called innsoluble fiber. It remains relatively intact as it passes through the digestive system. The primary function of insoluble fiber is to move waste through the intestines and maintain intestinal acid balance.

The other is called soluble fiber is the type of fiber responsible for lowering total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

2. Sources of insoluble fiber

Fruit skins and root vegetable skins

  • Vegetables (green beans, celery, cauliflower, zucchini, beets, turnips, potato skins, and dark green leafy vegetables)
  • Wheat and whole-wheat products
  • Wheat oat
  • Corn bran
  • Seeds and nuts

3. Sources of soluble fiber

4. How much fiber do you need?

Shoot for 25-35 grams of dietary fiber everyday. Of this, soluble fiber should make up 15 grams. The average US dietary fiber intake is 12-18 grams/day.

If your current diet is very low in dietary fiber, don’t increase to 35 grams overnight. A sudden increase will result in gastrointestinal (stomach) distress and unpleasant side effects (flatulence and diarrhea). You want to increase your fiber intake gradually.

A final note:

Select high fiber foods, especially foods that contain soluble fiber. I once heard a gastroenterologist say he would be out of a job if everyone just ate more beans!

See more helpful articles:

Quiz: What Do You Know About Dietary Fiber?

Triglycerides: Why They Matter and How to Lower Them

Lipoprotein Testing: Why it’s So Important and Where You Can Get it Done

Get a Grip on Fatty Acids

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