Active Seniors

Dietary factors influencing cardiovascular health

There are many foods that affect the health of our body and cardiovascular system. This article looks at the evidence behind some of the main foods, diets and supplements that impact on our cardiovascular health.


Studies suggest those adhering to a Mediterranean or vegetarian diet have reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) as well as reduced mortality from CVD.


Consuming at least 20g of soy protein per day can produce modest reductions in bad (LDL) cholesterol levels. These foods will also assist cardiovascular health if they replace high saturated fat animal products. Food sources include soybeans, tofu, soymilk and miso.


7-10g of soluble fibre (psyllium husks or supplements and Β-glucan from barley and oats) per day can reduce total and LDL cholesterol by about 3%. This fibre binds cholesterol particles in the gut that are then excreted from the body before they are absorbed into the blood stream.


A diet including 2g/day of plant sterols can lower LDL cholesterol levels by about 9%; however, an individual’s LDL response can vary depending on their baseline level. These are available in Australia in enriched margarines and cheeses (e.g. “Flora Pro-Active” or “Live Active” brands). The therapeutic dose is equal to 2-3 teaspoons of margarine OR 2-3 slices of cheese. Better cholesterol lowering effects are observed through multiple daily doses.


Consuming ~50g of nuts five times/week as part of a diet containing 35% energy as fat (high in mono- and/or polyunsaturated fatty acids) decreases total and LDL cholesterol.


Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil supplements (approximately 3 g/day EPA and/or DHA) reduces serum triglyceride levels. Current recommendations for individuals diagnosed with coronary heart disease are to achieve an intake of EPA and DHA through the consumption of at least two fish meals/week. Those who cannot meet these guidelines or those with very high triglyceride levels may benefit from 2-4g EPA and DHA in a fish oil supplement.



Evidence for reducing cardiac risk

Garlic Inconsistent evidence, possible reductions in total cholesterol levels, no effect on triglyceride levels.
Red Yeast Rice Can be as effective as statins at lowering cholesterol! However this is an unapproved drug in Australia and the quality of available supplements varies. Side effects can be severe, including liver, kidney and muscle problems.
Niacin (vitamin B3) 1-3g/day crystalline niacin can be effective in increasing HDL (good cholesterol) levels and reducing triglyceride levels. Note: side effects!
Red Clover Inconclusive – more research needed.
Lecithin No benefit for lowering LDL cholesterol.
Coenzyme Q10 Poor quality studies, conflicting evidence.

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