Dakota State University -- NDSU Agriculture
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Prairie Fare: One From the Heart
By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist
Have you thought about your heart lately? Think how hard this pump works every day. The human heart beats nearly 100,000 times a day. Have you ever squeezed a tennis ball? That’s about the amount of force your heart uses with each beat. Thanks to your heart, your blood travels about 12,000 miles every day delivering nutrients and oxygen to cells.
Sometimes it takes a trip to the doctor and a high blood cholesterol reading to get people thinking about their hearts. February is American Heart Month, a time to consider some changes in our diet and lifestyle to keep our "tickers" possibly ticking a little longer. Regular physical activity and a healthy diet go hand in hand in keeping our hearts healthy and strong.
Blood cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s not all bad. Cholesterol helps the human body digest fat, and it is used to make hormones that regulate body processes. A high blood cholesterol reading (greater than 200), however, is linked with greater risk for heart disease. Excess cholesterol can become part of artery-clogging plaques that make the heart work harder.
Eating too much saturated fat (the kind that is usually solid at room temperature) is linked with developing higher blood cholesterol levels, especially LDL ("bad cholesterol") levels. Dietary cholesterol, the type of cholesterol we get from our food, is found in animal-based foods like eggs and meat. People on medically prescribed diets for heart disease are usually encouraged to limit cholesterol-containing foods, too. And, sometimes, medication to lower blood cholesterol levels becomes necessary.
If your blood cholesterol level concerns you, there are some changes you can make to help keep it under control. In a research project called the "Smart Heart Challenge," hundreds of people in Connecticut, Colorado and California each ate a bowl of oatmeal daily to see the effects on their blood cholesterol readings. The average drop in blood cholesterol level was 16 points, and 70 percent of the participants lowered their cholesterol levels to some degree.
Does the oatmeal have to be cooked to reduce cholesterol? Another research study with 135 adult participants ranging in age from 40 to 70 showed promise for cold oat-based cereals. Eating two portions of whole grain oat cereal reduced the subjects’ blood cholesterol levels by up to 18 percent.
Oatmeal contains beta glucans, a type of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber seems to act like a sponge, soaking up cholesterol-containing material in the digestive system and carrying it out of the body before it can be absorbed.
In 1997, oatmeal was the first food that became eligible for a specific health claim: "Soluble fiber from oatmeal in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease." So, in other words, a bowlful of oatmeal is likely to reduce your cholesterol level – but you need to do your part, and not live on brownies and ice cream for the rest of the day. Some other good sources of soluble fiber are barley, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, carrots, sweet potatoes, and cooked beans, peas and lentils.
Here’s a recipe from the Quaker Oats Company (www.quakeroatmeal.com) that adds some soluble fiber to an old family favorite. For more information about keeping your heart healthy, visit the American Heart Association Web site: www.americanheart.org