First up is a very common citrus fruit that contains pectin. Like other types of soluble fiber, pectin forms a gooey mass in your stomach that traps cholesterol and carries it out of your body before it can be absorbed into your bloodstream (where it contributes to clogged arteries). One medium orange provides about 2 to 3 g of soluble fiber, as well as other beneficial nutrients such as vitamin C, folate, and potassium. You have to eat oranges in order to benefit from their fiber content, so put your juicer aside, and choose thick-skinned varieties for the best taste and easiest peeling.
Here's one you probably know about already, but you may not be aware of some of the less conventional forms and uses for this soluble fiber-rich grain. While oatmeal is an obvious winner, oat flour is another versatile option. If you can't find it in the places you typically shop, you can make your own by pulverizing rolled oats in a food processor. Oat flour can be substituted for up to half the all-purpose flour in most pancake and muffin recipes; I even use it in the low-fat oatmeal cookies my kids adore.
Beans and Lentils
Beans and lentils are sky-high in fiber, a good portion of which is the heart-healthy soluble type. They're also a great low-fat replacement for animal protein, which is often full of saturated fat. Beans can be incorporated into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks. For breakfast, make a burrito with scrambled egg whites, black beans, and salsa. At lunch, a bowl of lentil soup with a few whole grain crackers hits the spot. For dinner, skip the typical side dish of pasta, potatoes, or rice and try seasoned beans instead.
Just like salmon, their more popular marine relatives, sardines are ridiculously rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3's not only lower LDL cholesterol, they're also potent anti-inflammatories, and they significantly reduce blood levels of artery-clogging triglycerides. I'm convinced that most people who turn up their noses at the mere mention of sardines haven't actually tried them. If that's you, consider this yummy open-faced sandwich: spread two slices of whole wheat bread with a little bit of low-fat mayo and top each half with a couple of canned sardines, a slice of tomato, and a few fresh basil leaves.
I love pistachio nuts, so I was thrilled when a 2008 study revealed that eating one or two handfuls (1.5 to 3 ounces) per day for four weeks significantly reduced LDL cholesterol in people with elevated blood levels. Turns out, these little powerhouses are a great source of phytosterols, the natural plant compounds that block absorption of dietary cholesterol. They're also rich in monounsaturated fat, fiber, and antioxidants — all of which are good for heart health. I prefer pistachios in the shell because it forces me to eat them slowly and prevents me from overdoing it with these healthy — but caloric — treats.
Because losing weight is the best way to lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol and boost your HDL ("good") cholesterol, cutting calories is important. One surefire way to cut back is to use an oil spray in place of butter or bottled oils when cooking. Instead of purchasing disposable nonstick spray canisters, I use a reusable oil mister and fill it with my favorite brand of olive oil. Replacing the saturated fat in butter with heart-healthy unsaturated plant oils, like olive and canola, helps to improve your overall cholesterol profile.