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Beware the cholesterol bandwagon

Last month I wrote about tackling high cholesterol, including shifting our diet. Food manufacturers haven’t missed the opportunity to cash in with cholesterol-lowering products. But we need to be discerning.

The picture shows Kellogg’s Guardian cereal. Unlike a lot of products in the Kellogg's stable, this one doesn’t target kids.

For a start, at $6 for 360 grams, it’s expensive. 

The front of the box makes it clear who it’s aimed at. We’re told that this cereal contains psyllium to stimulate the BREAKDOWN of CHOLESTEROL.

If our cholesterol reading is an issue, this could look appealing.

And so easy. All we have to do is pour it in a bowl and add milk. 

But before we toss it in our trolley, it’s useful to step back and remind ourselves that THIS is what refined or processed food looks like.

A lot of us know to avoid processed food, but we don’t make the connection with products like this that promise good health. 

On the back of the box is information about fibre and the way it feeds the good bacteria in our gut. Sounds convincing, right?

Except that if we read the ingredients list, this supposedly great-for-us product contains sugar, salt, white rice, barley malt extract (also called barley malt syrup, it’s added for flavour and sweetening), and ‘natural flavour’ (a nebulous description of flavouring that’s invariably artificial).

Yes, it apparently contains wheat and barley and 11% psyllium, but the bottom line is that it’s a cheap product being sold at a premium price. 

So stick to real food, including plenty of vegetables and some fruit. 

Psyllium husk is the main ingredient in fibre supplements such as Metamucil, and it can help to lower cholesterol. Harvard Medical School recommends 10-20 grams a day.

If you’re using the husk itself, rather than capsules, a teaspoon contains about 5 grams (whereas one serve of Guardian provides about 4.4 grams). Start with that much, because it can cause gas or bloating in some people. Perhaps try stirring it into your oats or some yoghurt, if you eat those. 

It swells and becomes gelatinous so you need plenty of liquid with it — around a cupful with this amount.

A dessertspoon is about 10 grams, but a divided dose is probably wise, especially to start with. Once you know you can manage one teaspoon, you could add another teaspoon at another time of day. 

If you take medication, talk to your doctor about using psyllium. You might need to take them at different times.

If you do want to try it and you haven't used it before, you might prefer to buy a small amount from an outlet that sells it loose. I've seen it for the equivalent of $4 for 100 grams. 

Since a box of Guardian contains around 40 grams of psyllium, buying it loose is cheaper. You can also get it in bigger amounts - a 500 gram bag is about $15.  

As is often the case, you'll pay less for the healthier option.

Read my other posts

Thursday, July 26, 2018 | Rhonda Anderson