In recent years it has been discovered that plant sterols and stanols (phytosterols) can be an excellent way to naturally reduce LDL cholesterol. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) advises that people who are trying to lower LDL cholesterol can see reductions of up to 10% by consuming 2-3 grams of phytosterols daily. This is great news for people that do not want to rely on prescription medication or face the side effects of statins.
The problem is that trying to add 2-3 grams of phytosterols to your diet can be nearly impossible since they are not available in that kind of quantity in most foods. The solution to this problem has been to extract phytosterols and add them to foods as a no-calorie and flavorless additive. The original foods to have added physterols, in the form of sterol esters, are margarine spreads.
There are several brands of spreads that have between 0.85 to 1.3 grams of sterol esters per serving. These brands include Benecol and Smart Balance HeartRite Light. Just 2-4 servings of these spreads per day can fulfill your daily recommended dose of phytosterols.
Now the question is – how can you have 2-4 servings of margarine spreads every day without getting sick of it? Here are some ways to enjoy these spreads:
To get the best LDL cholesterol reducing power, enjoy these spreads on foods that are known to reduce cholesterol.
1. Add a pat to a bowl of oatmeal – Add a tablespoon to some prepared oatmeal. To further increase the cholesterol reducing power, also include some cinnamon and nuts (preferably almonds). Most people enjoy adding butter to oatmeal so switching with a cholesterol reducing spread is a perfect alternative. Oatmeal is one of the top foods for lowering cholesterol so this is the perfect combination to start your day.
2. Melt the spread on some steamed broccoli – Plain broccoli is not enjoyable by most people. Add some extra flavor by melting a tablespoon of cholesterol reducing spread over the broccoli. Increase the flavor even more by sprinkling some cayenne pepper or other seasonings on top.
3. Enjoy a whole grain bagel – Toast your favorite whole grain bagel (two good brands are Panera Bread and Thomas’) and then add a tablespoon of spread. Cinnamon can be a great addition, but a little jam won’t hurt if you a bit of a sweet tooth. Whole grains are great for reducing cholesterol levels. Bagels may not be for everyone, so choose a whole grain muffin instead, or . . .
4. On top of a slice of whole grain banana bread – As with the whole grain bagel mentioned above, there are several other options for whole grains that you can find. I won’t list every whole grain option, but one of my favorites is banana bread. While it may be hard to find real whole grain banana bread at the store, it is not hard to make. If you have a couple bananas that are past ripe you can mix up some batter in just 15 minutes and have some banana bread after an hour in the oven. Here is a very tasty recipe for whole wheat banana nut bread. Adding a tablespoon of cholesterol lowering spread on a warm slice of banana bread is just heaven!
5. Spread a tablespoon on some cooked fish – Some fish are great for your heart health – such as salmon and mackerel. Unfortunately, there are some people that have trouble getting used to the taste of fish. Adding some cholesterol lowering spread, as well as some lemon and spices will help those not used to fish. While broiled, poached, or grilled is better for your health, if you do fry your fish (not deep fry!) you can also cook the fish using the spread instead of butter or oil – though, some vegetable oil is okay since it includes phytosterols.
6. Broiled apples – Another food that is considered to be good at lowering bad cholesterol is the apple. Eating plain apples everyday can get monotonous so why not combine the power of apples with a cholesterol lowering spread? Try this – core and then cut an apple in half. Cover the two halves with a tablespoon of spread and then broil until browned. You can also sprinkle some cinnamon and a little sugar on the apples before broiling for more flavor. These are a fast and tasty snack for any time of the day. You can try this with other fruits, such as peaches and pears.
7. Create flavored spreads for vegetables, fish, meats, and breads – Eating plain spreads can get quite boring. It is easy to add flavor by playing around with different spices or other flavorings. Just mix a tablespoon or two of a spread with whatever you want to add as flavor then spread the flavored result as a topping or use it to cook with. Here are some that you can try:
- Cayenne pepper – some people are afraid that this has too much of a kick, but in small amounts cayenne pepper can add just the right amount of spice.
- Chili powder
- Lemon pepper
- Garlic salt
- Ground ginger
- Lime juice
- Orange juice
- Sun-dried tomatoes
As you can see, it can be quite simple to add cholesterol lowering spreads to your diet without becoming bored with them. However, be aware that you will likely be adding calories to your diet. In order to prevent weight gain make sure that you remove something else from your diet to make room for the added calories coming from the extra tablespoons of margarine spreads that you will be consuming every day.