cnn.com – (CNN)Keeping your heart healthy is about more than avoiding fast food and overly processed chow. You can also pump up your heart’s health by choosing foods that will help reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
Which food groups have the most science behind their heart-healthy claims?
The cell walls of oats and barley contain a special type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which has a host of benefits for human health. Studies show that it blunts the body’s insulin response and boosts immunity, and it may be protective during radiation and chemotherapy. But it’s its role in cholesterol reduction that counts for heart health.
“Beta-glucans bind to bile acids and cholesterol in the intestines and prevent their absorption into the body,” CNN contributor and registered dietitian Lisa Drayer said. “So, if you have high cholesterol, it would be a good idea to incorporate oats or oatmeal for breakfast on a regular basis.”
Other grains, such as rye, wheat and sorghum, contain beta-glucans but in much smaller quantities than oats and barley. Beta-glucans are also found in seaweed, baker’s yeast and various species of mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake and maitake.
Research shows that eating 3 grams of beta-glucans a day will reduce cholesterol by up to 10%. According to Heart UK, a British charity dedicated to helping those with high cholesterol, you can accomplish by eating a bowl of oatmeal each day; adding 2 tablespoons of oat bran to your smoothie, soup or entree at lunch; and having an oatmeal cookie for a snack.
Heart UK says you can replace one of those oat servings with 150 grams (⅔ cup) of cooked pearl barley.