Back in 1985, researchers Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein won a Nobel Prize for proving a correlation between cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis, a primary culprit of cardiovascular disease. This finding ushered in a whole new era of statin drugs used to lower cholesterol.
But as a food scientist and pharmacologist, I know that these powerful drugs were initially meant for those who are genetically predisposed to very high cholesterol levels. For many active people who do not suffer from high blood pressure, there's a more holistic approach to achieving levels that are considered healthy.
In fact, studies show that following a balanced diet full of fiber and low in processed foods and sugar will go a long way toward achieving this goal. Why is fiber so key here? Simply put, it binds to cholesterol to facilitate its excretion from the body. It's one of the reasons why nutrition experts recommend that women get about 25 grams of fiber per day, and men about 38 grams.
To help hit those numbers and achieve healthy cholesterol levels, here are ten fiber-filled items to add to your daily diet:
Peas, lentils and black beans are not only full of fiber, but they're also rich in protein. These little beauties, dense in both nutrients and energy, can serve as a main meal in soups and are a wonderful way to supplement salads.
Artichokes are an extremely high-fiber veggie, and, like many other fiber-containing green vegetables, artichokes are a great food for the healthy bacteria that live in your gut (these foods are also known as “prebiotics”). When you take care of the bacteria in your gut, they'll take care of you.
Make your taste buds happy by serving stuffed artichokes basted with olive oil and garlic. Or, substitute artichoke hearts for tahini in a homemade hummus.
Without a doubt, my all-time favorite green vegetable is broccoli. Though it's not the vegetable that carries the most fiber — it has 5 grams per cup — it's versatile and tasty. Whether roasted with garlic, stir fried with beef or chicken or served on a crudité platter, there never seems to be enough of this colorful, cruciferous veggie.
4. Brussels sprouts
Who knew Brussels sprouts could taste so good? Roast these fibrous wonders and serve them with walnuts and grapes to easily liven up any meal.
Avocados are an all-time great superfood. An avocado can complement many foods; I love them in salads, salsas and on sandwiches.
And forget those multi-ingredient guacamole recipes. Simply mash an avocado with fresh lime juice and sea salt and you'll have the perfect dip to pair with your whole grain tortilla chips.
When you're itching for a sweet treat, opt for fruit. The fiber found in fruit delays the absorption of sugar, which reduces the subsequent spike in insulin levels. And one raw pear alone delivers 9 gram of fiber.
Try pears grilled or browned in a skillet for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Start your morning with 5 grams of fiber in a half-cup of cooked oatmeal from rolled oats. You can up the flavor by adding some fresh fruit, cinnamon and non-dairy milk. Or try a savory version made with olive oil, sea salt and walnuts.
8. Chia seeds
Not only will you find 5 grams of fiber per tablespoon of chia seeds, but your heart will also benefit from the omega-3 fatty acids. Add these seeds to smoothies and your morning cereal, or make a pudding prepared with almond milk to really make your arteries happy.
9. Brown rice
This list would not be complete without including brown rice as a whole-grain option. One cup of cooked brown rice contains 4 grams of fiber, which is slightly more than that found in wild rice. Serve it as a side dish or add it to a tabbouleh to give this Mediterranean dish a chewy bite.
No, kale's moment isn't over. One cup of raw, chopped kale delivers 1.3 grams of fiber — roughly twice the amount found in spinach. Make your own kale chips by adding olive oil and seasoning lightly with salt, curry or cumin and baking until lightly browned.
You can also add a handful of kale to smoothies. Green drinks are a great way to detoxify the body first thing in the morning.