Research shows that more dietary changes are needed for significant benefits.
If you believe what you read in the cereal aisle, the right breakfast choice can lower your cholesterol -- and cut your risk of heart disease.
For the last few years, Cheerios boxes and ads have promoted the cereal's ability to help lower cholesterol; last year, for a time, ads promised the cereal could lower cholesterol by a very specific 4% in six weeks. (Cereal maker General Mills removed that particular claim from boxes after receiving a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration in May stating that the claim had not been approved by the agency.) A few other products, including Quaker Oatmeal Squares and Kashi Heart to Heart, claim to be able to help lower cholesterol too.
Those claims are based on the fact that the cereals are made from whole grain oats and oat bran, sources of a type of soluble fiber called oat beta-glucan, which has been linked to reduced levels of LDL, or bad, cholesterol.
But this doesn't mean your breakfast cereal can replace your Lipitor -- or take the place of the broader dietary changes necessary to lower cholesterol.
The soluble fiber in some breakfast cereals can help lower cholesterol levels, but it would likely take more than a single bowl in the morning to get the desired effect, says Dr. Leslie Cho, director of the Cleveland Clinic's Women's Cardiovascular Center in Cleveland.
It takes at least 3 grams of soluble fiber per day to reduce cholesterol, Cho says. To get that amount from a breakfast cereal, one would generally have to consume 3 cups -- that's three servings -- a day.
"That's a lot of soluble fiber, but it comes at a cost of lots of sugar," says Cho. Regular Cheerios provides 1 gram of soluble fiber and 1 gram of sugar per serving; Honey Nut Cheerios provides less than 1 gram of soluble fiber and 9 grams of sugar. (Sugar takes its own toll on heart health by contributing to weight gain and increasing the risk of diabetes, Cho says.)
Further, other foods are richer sources of soluble fiber. A half-cup of oatmeal provides 2 grams of the fiber, an orange provides 1.7 grams, and a serving of black beans provides 2.4 grams.
Fiber is generally divided into two types. Insoluble fiber, found in whole wheat, nuts and vegetables, resists digestion and helps prevent constipation. Soluble fiber, found in oats, beans and legumes, is dissolvable in water and in recent decades has been linked to lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease.