Spaghetti lovers rejoice -- whole-wheat pasta does not raise cholesterol levels but actually may help lower them. Whole grains, along with other high-fiber foods such as beans, fruits and prunes, are part of a healthy, cholesterol-busting diet. This is important, because high LDL cholesterol levels increase your risk of heart disease. All women over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol checked by a doctor.
Whole wheat's biggest claim to fame is its fiber content: each cup of cooked whole-wheat spaghetti contains 5.4 grams of total fiber. Of that, 1.2 grams are soluble fiber, while the rest is insoluble. Soluble fiber blocks some dietary cholesterol absorption, and the Mayo Clinic recommends consuming at least 5 to 10 grams daily to reduce cholesterol. Insoluble fiber also helps lower cholesterol, according to Colorado State University Extension. Women between 18 and 50 years old need 25 grams of total dietary fiber per day.
If you're overweight, slimming down can lower LDL cholesterol levels -- and whole-wheat pasta may help. A study published in the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association" in 2006 showed that overweight and obese adults who included whole grains in their meal plans lost more body fat over 24 weeks than those who did not eat whole grains, despite similar caloric intake and exercise levels. The whole-grain group also tended to eat less saturated fat and got more fiber, magnesium and vitamin B-6 in their diets.
Whole-grain pasta may not help your cholesterol if you top your plate with creamy sauces, meatballs or piles of cheese. Your LDL cholesterol could actually go up when you consume saturated fats and cholesterol found in fatty animal products. For a heart-healthy meal, use a low-sodium tomato sauce and a light sprinkling of reduced-fat Parmesan cheese. Or, make a pasta primavera with fresh peppers, tomatoes and garlic sauteed in a teaspoon of olive oil, which helps lower LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic.
For optimal heart health, your "bad" LDL cholesterol levels should fall below 100 milligrams per deciliter while "good" HDL cholesterol levels should be at least 60 milligrams per deciliter. In addition to eating whole grains, incorporate some healthy lifestyle changes to achieve optimal cholesterol levels. Stay as physically active as possible, aiming for at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and if you smoke, quit -- cigarettes can negatively affect your cholesterol levels, according to the National Institutes of Health.
- MayoClinic.com: Cholesterol: Top 5 Foods to Lower Your Numbers
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: For Women -- Cholesterol
- Harvard University Health Services: Fiber Content of Foods in Common Portions
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Consumption of Whole-Grain Cereals During Weight Loss: Effects on Dietary Quality, Dietary Fiber, Magnesium, Vitamin B-6, and Obesity
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.