Chew on This

Look to the right foods to lower cholesterol, not statins

Concerned about statins?

A recent report adds to those concerns. Statin takers had a greater intake of calories and fat than non takers and their BMI increased at a faster rate, according to a report last month in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Not surprising, since many folks on statins think of the medication as a free trip to the buffet. About 15 million people now take statins, and if guidelines published last year from the American Heart Association are followed, another 13 million people should start.

Statins lower blood cholesterol by blocking the liver’s ability to make cholesterol. They also lower the risk of premature death, heart attack and stroke.

But what about cancer, diabetes and other chronic conditions that are made worse by an unhealthy food intake? Statins are not going to be any help and, in fact, can raise blood glucose levels. And physicians usually advise their patients on statins to maintain and definitely not gain weight. But, apparently, people aren’t listening.

To prevent the need for a statin or to give your cholesterol-lowering medication a boost, load up with soluble fiber. Great sources are oatmeal, apples, dried beans, oranges, pears, strawberries, nuts, flax seeds, dried peas, blueberries, Brussel sprouts, sweet potato, asparagus, cucumbers, celery and carrots. Other heart healthy changes are to decrease saturated fats by choosing lean meat no more than three times a week, having fatty fish like salmon, tuna or sardines two to three times a week and enjoying almonds and walnuts for snacks. Olive oil contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol but leaves the good cholesterol untouched. Use one to two tablespoons a day in place of other fats in your diet.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by medications that lower cholesterol or blood pressure. It is the right food that provides primary illness prevention.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.