A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in August 2009 may cast new light on flaxseed. Ground flaxseed has already earned its position as a plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, helping to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and promoting healthy digestion. In the new study, researchers in China analyzed results from more than 28 studies involving whole flaxseed and flaxseed oil. The findings? Eating one tablespoon per day of whole flaxseed lowered total and LDL cholesterol, but not HDL cholesterol, in postmenopausal women and men, especially in those who had higher cholesterol levels. Until now it’s been thought that flaxseed must be ground up to be digested and yield health benefits, but it may be that the whole seed can also offer lipid-lowering benefits.
Flaxseed is quite safe, although nausea, bloating, and diarrhea are possible side effects. It’s best to take flaxseed separately from any medicines to prevent drug absorption problems: Flaxseed can slow the movement of food (and medicines) from the stomach to the intestines.
Heart-healthy eating overall
Following a heart-healthy eating plan is one of the best ways to help you reach your blood lipid goals. A heart-healthy plan has the following characteristics:
- It is low in saturated and trans fat. This means limiting fats that are solid at room temperature such as butter, some stick margarines, shortening, and lard, and consuming less red meat, cheese, whole milk, and fast food.
- It contains heart-healthy fats, such as olive, peanut, canola, corn, and sunflower oils; trans-fat–free tub vegetable oil spread; nuts and seeds; and omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseed.
- A heart-healthy plan is rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, cereals, and pasta, and dried beans and peas.
- It contains no more than 2400 milligrams of sodium daily, primarily for blood pressure control. Canned or processed foods, such as canned soups and vegetables, frozen meals, fast foods, and lunch meats tend to be high in sodium. Eating less of such foods and seeking out low-sodium (containing no more than 140 mg sodium per serving) or “no salt added” varieties of them can help you cut back on your sodium intake.
(Click here for more information about choosing foods that can help you lower your cholesterol.)
A registered dietitian can help you develop an individualized eating plan that’s good for both your heart and your blood glucose control. If you choose to try dietary supplements to lower your cholesterol — or for any other reason — tell your health-care provider, and keep him updated on your usage from one appointment to the next.