The Way to Help Your Heart Is Definitely Through Your Stomach

If you are concerned about your cholesterol you are not alone.  Nearly 50 percent of adult Americans have total cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dl. This places them at risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Elevated cholesterol is one of the most important risk factors for heart disease.1 This is well-known. What isn’t as widely known, is that most people can normalize their high cholesterol levels and dramatically reduce heart disease risk without medication.

The most effective way to lower cholesterol, without the side effects of medication, is through dietary intervention. How effective? My recent study, published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, illustrates the power of the right diet in lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of other types of cardiovascular problems. The study showed dramatic reductions in weight, cholesterol and blood pressure, in addition to offering numerous case studies demonstrating reversal of heart disease. The survey respondents who started out obese experienced an average sustained weight loss of more than 50 pounds in the two years since they switched to a Nutritarian diet. Respondents who were not taking cholesterol-lowering medication also experienced an average 42 mg/dl decrease in LDL cholesterol.2

The Nutritarian diet is a high-nutrient, plant-rich diet featuring lots of raw and cooked vegetables. It is the safest and healthiest strategy for reducing cholesterol and preventing future heart attacks and other heart disease. A study of the Nutritarian diet found that LDL cholesterol was reduced 33 percent in just two weeks, a greater reduction compared to the low-fat and starch-based diets also studied.3 Similar interventions using low-fat vegetarian, Mediterranean, or other diets have not been nearly as effective.4-7

Cholesterol-lowering medicines (statins) are effective for reducing cholesterol, but keep in mind statins are associated with a host of side effects: liver dysfunction, acute renal failure, cataracts, increased diabetes risk, and impaired muscle function.8-10 Plus, an excellent diet coupled with exercise does much more than reduce cholesterol; a healthy lifestyle will also decrease heart disease risk by improving other important factors such as glucose levels, blood pressure, inflammation, and body weight.

To protect against heart disease and to lower and maintain a healthy cholesterol level, I recommend these eight simple rules:

  1. Eat at least one cup of beans every day. A pooled analysis of 10 trials found that consuming beans regularly significantly reduces total and LDL cholesterol.11 Plus, a 19-year study found that people who eat beans at least four times a week have a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who eat them less than once a week.12
  2. Eat at least one ounce of raw nuts and seeds daily. Nuts not only reduce total and LDL cholesterol, but also aid in weight control, reduce the glycemic load of the diet, and reduce heart disease risk by 35 percent when eaten regularly.13, 14
  3. Eat one large green salad each day, and include raw onion. Higher leafy green and cruciferous vegetable consumption is linked to lower risk of heart disease.15, 16
  4. Include berries and/or pomegranate in your diet daily. The antioxidants in berries and pomegranates, such as anthocyanins and punicalagin, are especially effective in improving both LDL and HDL cholesterol.17, 18
  5. Have 1 Tbsp. of ground flax or chia seeds plus a DHA supplement each day. Clinical trials show that daily flaxseed consumption reduces total cholesterol by 6-11 percent.19
  6. Use tomatoes and (no salt added) tomato sauces and dips regularly. Many observational studies have made a connection between higher blood lycopene (the signature carotenoid of the tomato) and lower risk of heart attack. 20-22
  7. Avoid refined carbohydrates and added oils. Processed foods are full of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor ingredients that promote weight gain and increase heart disease risk. 23-25
  8. Minimize animal products to less than 10 percent of total calories for the week. If you have heart disease or significantly high cholesterol, limit below 5 percent or eliminate them. Higher animal product consumption is linked to increased heart disease risk. 26

Download a printable PDF version of my eight simple ways to lower your cholesterol  and read more about how heart disease can be prevented or reversed in my most recent book, The End of Heart Disease

  1. Roger VL, Go AS, Lloyd-Jones DM, et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics--2012 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation 2012, 125:e2-e220.
  2. Fuhrman J, Singer M. Improved Cardiovascular Parameter With a Nutrient-Dense, Plant-Rich Diet-Style: A Patient Survey With Illustrative Cases. Am J Lifestyle Med 2015.
  3. Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Popovich DG, et al. Effect of a very-high-fiber vegetable, fruit, and nut diet on serum lipids and colonic function. Metabolism 2001, 50:494-503.
  4. Bemelmans WJ, Broer J, de Vries JH, et al. Impact of Mediterranean diet education versus posted leaflet on dietary habits and serum cholesterol in a high risk population for cardiovascular disease. Public Health Nutr 2000, 3:273-283.
  5. Bunyard LB, Dennis KE, Nicklas BJ. Dietary intake and changes in lipoprotein lipids in obese, postmenopausal women placed on an American Heart Association Step 1 diet. J Am Diet Assoc 2002, 102:52-57.
  6. Sharman MJ, Kraemer WJ, Love DM, et al. A ketogenic diet favorably affects serum biomarkers for cardiovascular disease in normal-weight men. J Nutr 2002, 132:1879-1885.
  7. Barnard ND, Scialli AR, Bertron P, et al. Effectiveness of a low-fat vegetarian diet in altering serum lipids in healthy premenopausal women. Am J Cardiol 2000, 85:969-972.
  8. Hippisley-Cox J, Coupland C. Unintended effects of statins in men and women in England and Wales: population based cohort study using the QResearch database. BMJ 2010, 340:c2197.
  9. Sattar N, Preiss D, Murray HM, et al. Statins and risk of incident diabetes: a collaborative meta-analysis of randomised statin trials. Lancet 2010, 375:735-742.
  10. Rajpathak SN, Kumbhani DJ, Crandall J, et al. Statin therapy and risk of developing type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care 2009, 32:1924-1929.
  11. Bazzano LA, Thompson AM, Tees MT, et al. Non-soy legume consumption lowers cholesterol levels: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrition, metabolism, and cardiovascular diseases : NMCD 2011, 21:94-103.
  12. Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, et al. Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med 2001, 161:2573-2578.
  13. Kris-Etherton PM, Hu FB, Ros E, Sabate J. The role of tree nuts and peanuts in the prevention of coronary heart disease: multiple potential mechanisms. J Nutr 2008, 138:1746S-1751S.
  14. Mattes RD, Dreher ML. Nuts and healthy body weight maintenance mechanisms. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2010, 19:137-141.
  15. Zhang X, Shu XO, Xiang YB, et al. Cruciferous vegetable consumption is associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular disease mortality. Am J Clin Nutr 2011, 94:240-246.
  16. Joshipura KJ, Hu FB, Manson JE, et al. The effect of fruit and vegetable intake on risk for coronary heart disease. Ann Intern Med 2001, 134:1106-1114.
  17. Qin Y, Xia M, Ma J, et al. Anthocyanin supplementation improves serum LDL- and HDL-cholesterol concentrations associated with the inhibition of cholesteryl ester transfer protein in dyslipidemic subjects. Am J Clin Nutr 2009, 90:485-492.
  18. Aviram M, Rosenblat M, Gaitini D, et al. Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation. Clin Nutr 2004, 23:423-433.
  19. Bassett CM, Rodriguez-Leyva D, Pierce GN. Experimental and clinical research findings on the cardiovascular benefits of consuming flaxseed. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2009, 34:965-974.
  20. Rissanen TH, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, et al. Low serum lycopene concentration is associated with an excess incidence of acute coronary events and stroke: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Br J Nutr 2001, 85:749-754.
  21. Rissanen T, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, Salonen JT. Lycopene, atherosclerosis, and coronary heart disease. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2002, 227:900-907.
  22. Rissanen TH, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, et al. Serum lycopene concentrations and carotid atherosclerosis: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2003, 77:133-138.
  23. Mozaffarian D, Aro A, Willett WC. Health effects of trans-fatty acids: experimental and observational evidence. Eur J Clin Nutr 2009, 63 Suppl 2:S5-21.
  24. Sieri S, Krogh V, Berrino F, et al. Dietary glycemic load and index and risk of coronary heart disease in a large italian cohort: the EPICOR study. Arch Intern Med 2010, 170:640-647.
  25. Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, et al. Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Intern Med 2014.
  26. Menotti A, Kromhout D, Blackburn H, et al. Food intake patterns and 25-year mortality from coronary heart disease: cross-cultural correlations in the Seven Countries Study. The Seven Countries Study Research Group. Eur J Epidemiol 1999, 15:507-515.
6/22/2018 7:00:00 AM
Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a family physician, New York Times best-selling author and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. Dr. Fuhrman is an internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, and has appeared on hundreds of radio a...
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