Vegetables and Cholesterol, Chia Seeds and Omega-3, Papayas

Vegetables and Cholesterol, Chia Seeds and Omega-3, Papayas

Q: Does eating more vegetables and fruits really help lower blood cholesterol?
Q: Is it true that chia seeds are one of the best sources of omega-3 fat? If so, how do you eat them?
Q: I have seen papayas in the grocery store but never tried one. What do I look for? Are they very nutritious?

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Does eating more vegetables and fruits really help lower blood cholesterol?

A: Studies suggest that it can help. Vegetables and fruits contain dietary fiber that can bind up cholesterol in the digestive tract and keep it from being absorbed into the body. An abundance of vegetables and fruits probably acts in other ways to lower risk of heart disease, too. These foods supply a variety of vitamins and natural plant compounds that act as antioxidants, protecting blood vessels and keeping LDL blood cholesterol in a less damaging form. Furthermore, a plant-based diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits seems to help counter inflammation that otherwise contributes to the build-up of plaque in blood vessels.

Q: Is it true that chia seeds are one of the best sources of omega-3 fat? If so, how do you eat them?

A: Chia seeds, which come from a desert plant, are often compared to flaxseeds, whose current popularity as a source of omega-3 fat began years ahead of chia seeds. A standard serving (about two tablespoons) of either one supplies about five to six grams of omega-3 fat. Some have suggested chia seeds and flaxseeds are better sources of omega-3 than salmon, but be cautious of these stories. A serving of salmon (three-ounce portion) contains about one gram of omega 3. Although technically lower than chia seeds and flaxseeds, omega 3 fats from animal sources (EPA and DHA) are more easily used by our bodies. The body must convert the plant forms of omega 3 (ALA) into animal forms, and it loses some in the process. Both chia seeds and flaxseeds offer an additional advantage as good sources of fiber. Chia seeds’ advantage is that they can be used “as is,” without grinding. And their mild flavor makes them an easy option to sprinkle on salads, cereal, yogurt or when baking. There’s no reason to feel that chia seeds are a must for good health, but they certainly are one option.

Q: I have seen papayas in the grocery store but never tried one. What do I look for? Are they very nutritious?

A: Papayas are extremely high in vitamin C, and also provide lots of beta-carotene, folate, magnesium and potassium. Papayas differ in size and shape, and the color of the flesh inside may be yellow, pinkish-orange or red. Because of these color differences, it’s difficult to judge ripeness by color. Look for a papaya that gives slightly to palm pressure without being too soft. If needed, ripen it at room temperature; store in the refrigerator for up to a week after that. The cluster of small black seeds in the center is edible, though most people discard them. Serve chunks of papaya in a fruit plate, added to a green salad, or as a topping for chicken or fish. It’s also great chopped with some cilantro and sweet red pepper for a flavorful salsa.

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The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $86 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.