How Food Can Help Lower Bad Cholesterol - Barley Grass

How Food Can Help Lower Bad Cholesterol - Barley Grass

The big bad boogeyman of health these days is LDL, or so-called bad cholesterol. Rather than over-emphasize the issue because the jury is still out on exactly how much cholesterol is linked to heart disease, we want to look into fundamental food choices that lead to better overall heart and blood health.

There are three major options for dealing with cholesterol problems -- lifestyle, drugs and diet. Lifestyle is uncomplicated, even if tough, and not for this topic.  The second choice, drugs, is risky and may be a shotgun method for some. The problem is that drugs often lead to a host of side-effects that can be worse than the original problem. For instance, statins block the liver's production of the cholesterol-making enzyme hydroxy-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase, so yes, they can lower LDL cholesterol, but they can also cause a range of side effects like muscle pain, joint pain, nausea, headaches, dizziness, constipation and diarrhea, skin eruptions, and more. In our minds, drugs should be the last resort (although I am certainly not suggesting you abandon your doctor's advice!)

The smart choice is starting with nutrition (yes, and obviously lifestyle too.) So let's have at it.

What foods can help me lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol?

First, let it be said that the goal of using food to heal is not necessarily a function of the medicinal qualities of the food in every case, but simply a method of putting in quality and getting health back out. There's no point eating lots of nutritious, fibrous veges and then eating a candy bar later.

There are a broad range of nutrients in foods that have beneficial effects on cholesterol. There are the foods that provide soluble fiber, there are the omega-3 fatty acids that reduce blood clots, and the foods with phytosterols and stanols that block the absorption of cholesterol, to name the major players.

We are going to focus on soluble fiber, which arguably is the best place to start. Whether it is because the fiber tends to catch and clear away the cholesterol, or because it reduces cholesterol absorption in the intestines, or whether it is simply because it fills you up so you eat less, the facts are that fiber is clinically proven to be effective in the fight against bad cholesterol. A study on lab hamsters in the 90s in which just 5% of their daily calories was replaced by high fiber supplements, showed an over 40% reduction in LDL and almost 20% increase in HDL.

Oat bran has gotten lots of attention lately, but really there are many fibrous foods that are effective. In fact, when looking for beta-glucan and beta-sitosterol (the components which likely reduce the cholesterol), there are better sources than oats.

Bring in the cereal grasses.

Often abeled "super foods", young barley and wheat grasses are the leaf of the plant that develops before the grain and are packed with more protein and calcium than equivalent amounts of cow's milk, 13 times more carotene than carrots, 65 times as much vitamin C as apples, and more iron and magnesium than spinach or kale! In addition to an extraordinary range of useful nutrients, barley and wheat grass contain three times as much beta-glucan as oats and are loaded with enzymes, amino acids, chlorophyll, antioxidants and monosaturated fats, which are well accepted for their usefulness in reducing LDL. The FDA now allows a health claim for food products containing barley that it can be heart healthy.

Bear in mind that when young, wheat and barley are more like vegetables than grains. Wheat / gluten is earning a poor reputation these days, but young wheat grass is completely different -- it is not till the plant grows older that it loses its nutrient density and becomes full of indigestible fiber.

Simply put, barley and wheat grass may be the closest thing to perfect foods we have, and there are plenty of studies that attest to their LDL cholesterol-lowering benefits.

In a study published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, researchers found that a diet including barley grass or wheat grass may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels, raise HDL, and lower triglyceride levels. In 2004, "Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin" studied 40 participants with hyperlipidemia who were given young barley leaf extract every day for four weeks. Participants experienced decreases in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Moreover, in-vitro tests show that cereal grass extracts scavenge free radicals, probably due to an exchange of hydrogen ions which weakens the free radicals, so they are potent antioxidants.

Great, so barley and wheat grass will help me lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol.

Try to get these grasses into your daily regimen as much as possible. Ideally fresh grasses are better, but supplements made with the dried plant can be of substantial benefit if you find it hard to get it into your daily diet. Look for supplements that use special processes to ensure the living enzymes and nutrients are not damaged, like using dehumidified air rather than heat to remove the moisture.

Barley is a natural food and is not linked to any significant adverse effects, but it does have high levels of vitamin K, so check first with your medical care provider, especially if you are taking blood thinners.

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Liu WC, Tsai CE. Young Barley Leaf Prevents LDL Oxidation in Humans. Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry [published by The Chinese Institute of Food Science and Technology] Vol. 4 (3): 110-116 (2002).
Am J Clin Nutr. 2004. Diet & Human Performance Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not a substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider because of something you have read here.

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