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Controlling Cholesterol & Beating Heart Disease

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Heart disease is the number one killer, for both men and women, in the U.S. (followed by cancer and stroke). It doesn't have to be that way.

Numerous scientific studies show that reducing your cholesterol, among other activities, is the best way to beat heart disease, cancer, stroke, and other deadly diseases. A major study by Kaiser Permanente and the University of Kuopio (Finland) also concluded in August 2009 that high cholesterol is associated with Alzheimer's Disease. Being such a grave concern, lowering cholesterol and improving heart health has been declared a "national health priority." It also needs to be a personal priority for all of us.

In general, your liver produces all the cholesterol you need, a necessary function for building cell membranes. Consuming cholesterol, however, can create an excess, which often leads to the clogging of arteries, causing heart disease (a blockage in the heart) and stroke (a blockage in the brain). In the U.S. and other western countries, there is, shockingly, widespread evidence of arterial clogging even in teenagers.

Many reputable health and science organizations -- including the American Cancer Society, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, American Institute for Cancer Research, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Cancer Institute, National Heart Foundation, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Union of Concerned Scientists, World Health Organization, and others -- all agree that a diet centered around fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as beans, nuts, and seeds, can significantly reduce your incidence of heart disease and heart attacks as well as cancer, stroke, obesity, hypertension, osteoporosis, diabetes, arthritis, endometriosis, Alzheimer's, gout, and other major maladies.

Further, what's best for your heart turns out to be good for your brain -- and also good for the environment! "People tend to think of the brain and the heart as totally separate, but they are not," Rachel A. Whitmer, Ph.D. of Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif., told WebMD. "We are learning that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain -- and that midlife is not too soon to be thinking about risk factors for dementia." It's vital that both our heartspans and our brainspans are as long, healthy, and happy as our maximum lifespans.

High-protein, low-carbohydrate fad diets (i.e., Atkins-style diets) may lead to temporary weight loss, but they are often a health disaster. A Northwestern University study reports that increases in the consumption of animal protein is correlated with, over time, increases in a person's weight and a greater risk to a person's health. The evidence is in; these fad diets should be out..

Eating the right foods, and avoiding the wrong ones, is the key to achieving both your appropriate weight and great health. Doing so will help lower your cholesterol and can prevent or reverse heart disease and other major maladies. Take control of your life!

There are many foods that are healthy and could be beneficial for lowering your cholesterol. Indeed, any food high in anti-oxidants, vitamins, or fiber would be an excellent choice, as is consuming the Indian spice turmeric (which may also prevent or even reverse Alzheimer's Disease), giving curry its beautiful yellow color, fenugreek seeds (which can also aid in fighting diabetes), cinnamon, and lecithin, as well as drinking moderate amounts of red wine, tea, and coffee (though excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption can be dangerous).

That said, some foods are, to paraphrase George Orwell, more equal than others. Various plant food sterols can very effectively block cholesterol and also help reduce LDL (low-density lousy cholesterol), while increasing the body's HDL (high-density healthy cholesterol).

Here are the top ten most effective foods known for lowering cholesterol and beating heart disease. Whenever possible, you should eat them in their unprocessed form and in combination with each other, consuming them regularly, even daily, for your optimum health:

1. soy products (including miso, soybeans, soy flour, soy milk, soy nuts, tempeh, tofu, and TVP)
2. colorful fruits & vegetables (ones that are red, orange, yellow green, blue, purple -- eat the rainbow!)
3. whole grains (including barley, brown rice, corn, oats and oat bran, whole wheat, and the less common amaranth, kamut, millet, quinoa, red rice, rye, spelt, teff, triticale, and others)
4. beans (including black, chickpea, kidney, lentils, navy, peas, pinto, and, of course, soy)
5. berries (including blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, currants, strawberries, and raspberries)
6. garlic (preferably raw, and others in the allium family, including chives, leeks, onions, scallions, and shallots)
7. nuts (including almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts)
8. seeds (including hemp, flax, pumpkin, psyllium, sesame, and sunflower)
9. olive oil (preferably extra virgin)
10. tea (especially green, but also black, oolong, and white)

As a special bonus, cocoa could be #11, which is likewise rich in natural phytonutrients, as it is also good for lowering cholesterol. Needless to say, chocolate is also delicious! The higher the cocoa level -- meaning dark chocolate -- and the lower the amount of dairy and sugar, the better for your health.

Besides eating the right foods, it is similarly important for you to avoid certain things. The seven most deadly sins are:

1. cholesterol (exclusively found in animal products),
2. saturated fats (disproportionately found in animals products and other rich foods),
3. hydrogenated oils or trans fats (often found in prepared, processed, fast, and other junk foods, these are unhealthy and unnecessary),
4. smoking (especially yours, but also of those around you),
5. stress (which makes everything worse!),
6. processed foods and refined flour (these foods tend to be empty calories),
7. unscientific and faddish "miracle" cures (especially when it comes to health, stick with the science!).

In addition to eating healthy foods, and avoiding the "deadly sins," scientific studies indicate that it is beneficial to:

1. exercise (especially aerobic exercise to strengthen our hearts and bodies),
2. eat lots of small meals instead of a small number of large ones (for better metabolism)
3. lose weight (to reduce the pressure on our hearts and bodies)
4. meditate (to reduce and control stress).

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Dan Brook, Ph.D. is a professor of political science and sociology. His writings are available at, from where he can be contacted. To get (more) involved with the campaign, check here: (more...)

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