If you’re among the 24 million Americans who take a statin or the 13 million considering one, now hear this: Taking that cholesterol-lowering, inflammation-cooling drug is not a license to overeat, gain weight or ask for steak instead of planked salmon!
However, that seems to be what many of you think. A recent UCLA study reveals that today’s statin users eat 10 percent more calories and 14 percent more fat than statin users did 15 years ago. (They also weigh more than non-statin users.) Those bad food choices increase your risk for high blood pressure and diabetes, and make your “real age” older, even while the statin keeps your lousy LDL cholesterol in check.
But if you take a second or even third look at your plate, you can take advantage of the remarkable health benefits of statins. Try a meal makeover that adds more proven, heart-smart edibles while subtracting nefarious food felons that boost your risk for everything from ticker trouble and high blood sugar to dementia and a lousy sex life. We think this meds-plus-food strategy works for everybody concerned about his or her lousy LDL numbers, as well as the 47 million North Americans taking blood pressure drugs, and the 10 million or more who take medications to help control Type 2 diabetes. Here’s why:
Heart drugs work way better with a healthy diet. People who take statins and other drugs for cardiovascular disease can slash their five-year risk for a heart attack an extra 22 percent by eating more healthfully, increasing physical activity and cutting out smoking. If your blood pressure is still high despite medication (a problem for 20 percent to 30 percent of people taking BP drugs), slashing sodium and simple sugars while nixing processed foods and opting for fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein could help you lower your blood pressure numbers by 9 to 22 points — all without taking more drugs or increasing your doses.
Blood sugar falls in line. If you take medication for Type 2 diabetes but still have high blood sugar levels, a plate makeover could help you bring your A1c (an average of your blood sugar level over six to 12 weeks) down to normal. In one University of Pennsylvania study, seven months of healthy foods lowered A1c levels from 8 percent (that’s high) to 5.8 percent (that’s healthy!) for people taking diabetes drugs.
To accomplish this, we suggest you banish the five food felons: refined flour, added sugars and syrups, saturated fat and trans fats. Munch on these five delicious foods instead:
1. Leafy greens. Just 1½ servings a day can slash diabetes risk up to 14 percent. And a diet that includes greens and olive oil (another power food) subdues blood pressure by raising levels of compounds called “nitro fatty acids.” The lutein in greens such as spinach helps prevent plaque buildup along artery walls.
2. Five servings of vegetables and fruit. Eating that every day slashes heart attack and stroke risk by 20 percent. Bump it up to eight or nine, and you’ll cut your risk by at least 30 percent. Produce is packed with satisfying fiber that helps control appetite and weight, soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol, and minerals that help regulate healthy blood pressure. The same stellar nutrients help keep blood sugar in line, too.
3. Nuts and olive oil. In moderation, the good fats in nuts and olive oil help by contributing to healthy cholesterol levels. The fiber and protein in nuts (especially walnuts) help smooth out blood sugar spikes after meals.
4. Beans. A cup a day can lower your A1c, reduce blood pressure and — thanks to a big dose of soluble fiber — helps whisk LDL-cholesterol-laden bile acids out of your body when you have a bowel movement.
5. Seafood. Fish like salmon and wild trout can help cut your risk for diabetes while pampering your eyes, brain, joints and sex organs. Now you’re primed to get the body do-over benefits of statins that you’ve been hoping for all along.