According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, about 25 percent of the U.S. population has mild hypercholestrolemia, or elevated LDL levels. LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, is also known as the bad cholesterol in our bodies. LDL cholesterol promotes the formation of atherosclerotic plaque within artery walls, giving rise to cardiovascular disease. Thirty percent of cholesterol comes from what we eat; the body manufactures the other 70 percent. Dietary factors that help to reduce LDL cholesterol include foods low in cholesterol and low in saturated and trans fats, and foods high in soluble fiber, soy protein, omega-3 fatty acids and plant sterols.
Flax is a source of many nutrients, including fiber and omega-3 fats. Alpha-linolenic acid, the omega-3 fat in flax, and the soluble fiber content both help to lower cholesterol levels. Flaxseeds come in brown and golden varieties, and are equally nutritious. Occasionally, brown flaxseeds contain a slightly higher omega-3 content. When you eat whole flaxseeds, you obtain only the insoluble fiber benefit from the seed. Therefore, you should consume ground flaxseeds, so that you can benefit from both the soluble fiber and the fatty acid content and hence the cholesterol-lowering capabilities.
Nonhydrogenated margarine, i.e. soft margarine, is the best spread for lowering LDL levels. Margarine made from olive, canola, soybean or flaxseed are the best choices due to the higher content of omega-3 fat. Margarines fortified with plant sterols are even a notch better. According to Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, plant sterols can help reduce LDL cholesterol by as much as 10 percent when consumed in small amounts daily as part of a nutritious diet. Try 2 tsp. of plant sterol margarines such as Becel Pro.activ to help reduce cholesterol by 40 percent. To add even more omega-3 to your diet, eat nuts and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, char and trout more often.
Legumes include beans, peas, nuts and lentils and are full of soluble fiber. Dietitians of Canada state that intakes of 7 to 10 g of soluble fiber daily can lower LDL cholesterol by about 7 percent. Pinto beans and green peas each contain 2 g of soluble fiber in a half cup cooked serving.