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Jumping on the branwagon.

Jumping on the Branwagon

How many oat bran animal cookies do you have to eat to lower your cholesterol by 3 percent?

It's not a riddle or a math problem, but the kind of mental gymnastics consumers must perform to decipher the barrage of oat bran claims popping up on packages and in ads.

The soluble fiber in oats does indeed lower cholesterol. We're receiving that message loud and clear. What's less clear is how much of a drop you can expect from eating a single serving of the food you're about to buy.

Unfortunately, manufacturers aren't much help--often because the truth is embarrassing. For example, you'd have to eat more than 90 Health Valley Animal Cookies every day to lower your cholesterol by about 3 percent.

To decode eat bran claims, you need to know three things:

1) How much of a cholesterol drop can I expect from oat bran or oatmeal? According to two good studies conducted under the direction of Jeremiah Stamler at Northwestern University Medical School (funded by Quaker, incidentally), the average person needs to eat some 35 grams of oat bran or oatmeal every day to lower his or her cholesterol by about 3 percent. [1,2]

Other studies have shown that oat bran can lower cholesterol by 10, or even 20 percent. [3,4] But to get that kind of reduction, people had to eat 100 grams of it--a bowl of pure bran cereal in the morning and five bran muffins during the day.

2) How much oat bran is in the food I'm about to eat? One ounce of pure hot oat-bran cereal (2/3 cup cooked) or oatmeal (2/3 cup cookd for quick; 3/4 cup cooked for instant) weighs 28 grams. That's pretty close to the 35 grams you need to lower your cholesterol by 3 percent, and is clearly the most efficient way to get your oats.

Theoretically, oatmeal should lower cholesterol less than oat bran, because the meal contains 20 percent less soluble fiber. But in Stamler's studies, the difference between the meal and bran was too small to show up in cholesterol measurements.

So if you prefer oatmeal, you neend't bother switching to pure oat bran. (Like oatmeal, bran cooks up into a hot cereal that can be jazzed up with raisins, cinnamon, and other flavors.)

Oat bran and meal are the easy ones. Things can get more complicated when you try to calculate the cholesterol-lowering serving size of other foods.

For example, the label on Kellogg's Common Sense Oat Bran says each serving contains 13 grams of oat bran. Since 13 is about one-third of 35, you can estimate that it's going to take three bowls of the cereal to lower cholesterol by 3 percent.

Check the accompanying chart to find out how many servings of 22 oat-containing foods it takes to reduce your cholesterol by about 3 percent.

Compared to cereals, oat bran muffins are fairly fattening. Among the best are those made by Health Valley, with 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons of fat per muffin. When we recently evaluated 21 muffins sold in the New York metropolitan area for The New York Times, only those made by David's Cookies (available in 26 states, mostly in the East) were better. What's more, many Health Valley products are made with organically grown grains.

3) How much bad comes with the good? What happens if a food contains cholesterol-cutting oat bran, but also hasd cholesterol-raising butter, coconut oil, eggs, lard, beef tallow, palm oil, or cream? It's tough to predict how it's going to affect your blood cholesterol.

Cracklin' Oat Bran is a case in point. Along with some amount of oat bran (Kellogg won't say how much), the cereal contains coconut oil, which raises cholesterol levels in the blood. And that could cancel out the cholesterol drop you get from the bran.


Adding oats to your diet may seem like a great idea--for a while. But you could tire of day after day (or year after year) of cereal, bread, or muffins.

Fortunately, alternatives exist. Dried beans and peas (including pinto, kidney, Navy, and black beans; and chick-peas, split peas, and lentils) are also rich in soluble fiber. We estimate that a half cup of cooked beans or peas will lower cholesterol the same 3 percent as a bowl of oat bran.

So it's a good idea to build these foods into your diet.

And don't forget: the first defense against a heart attack is a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, which could help prevent cancer and obesity as well.

[1] J. Am. Assoc. 86: 759, 1986.

[2] Prev. Med. 17: 377, 1988.

[3] Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 40: 1146, 1984.

[4] Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 34: 824, 1981.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Center for Science in the Public Interest
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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Dec 1, 1988
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