Getting a Cholesterol Clue?

I've got elevated cholesterol levels, and the problem runs in my family. My father died of a heart attack, and so did his mother. The word "arteriosclerosis" has been in my vocabulary since I was a teenager.

Over the past few years, I've talked with my doctor about my borderline-high risk level -- as defined by the American Heart Association (last year it was 220 mg/dL) -- and we both know that a vigilant diet (for me that means minimal cheese and ice cream) and regular exercise at least 3 times a week brings my level closer to 200.

The Clue Bar, oatmeal raisin style. (Kim O'Donnel)

Although cheese is my weakness, I have long considered a daily regimen of cholesterol-lowering oatmeal every day, but that heart-healthy idea fizzled out quickly. I am always thinking about how I can amp up my soluble fiber intake to help sweep out the artery-clogging gunk that increases my risk of a heart attack.

The voice in my head is always there, but honestly, I am not keen to eat a bowl of oatmeal every day.

A few weeks ago, I heard from a woman named Vicki Gloor, whose son, Andy, developed a snack bar with cholesterol in mind. The story, Gloor says, begins when Andy, who was 28 at the time, went for a checkup in 1999, when his doctor recommended cholesterol-lowering statins. As it turned out, the whole family was at risk.

Rather than take the drugs, the Gloors got to work developing various food products. "We started out making a soy shake," Gloor says in an e-mail, "but it was a pain to make every day."

In 2004, the Gloors launched the Clue Bar, an oatmeal-based ready-to-eat snack bar. Sweetened with fruit juice and brown rice syrup, the bar comes in two flavors: Oatmeal Raisin and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip.

In addition to the oats, the bar contains Omega-3-rich walnuts, bee pollen, and two kinds of algae -- chlorella and spirulina-- which the Club Bar folks argue have been studied for their cholesterol-lowering effects. (The chocolate chip version contains soy protein.)

Unlike some of the raw bars I bit into yesterday, the "greens" part of the Clue Bar is undetectable. Really what you're getting is a very oaty, mildly sweet cookie that has a wholesome texture.

Is it like eating a homemade oatmeal cookie? Not a chance. But can it work as on-the-run replacement for a bowl of oatmeal? It just might.

Better still, the Clue Bar folks are not suggesting that this is a magic potion with special cholesterol-lowering powers. It's one part of an equation, which includes regular exercise and cleaning up the rest of our diets.

I asked Gloor how the bar impacted her life. Over a period of three months, she says, "my cholesterol went from 278 to 175." But, in addition to the bars, "I stopped eating at McDonald's and walked three-five times a week for half an hour."

I appreciate how Gloor acknowledges that human effort is key to long-term success. "If I'm not vigilant," she writes, "and I start eating too much fat or not exercising, it [cholesterol level] will creep up to 200."

It's rare that I write about a specific product and single it out, but I've got to admit, I like the Clue Bar enough to do a three-month test run and see what happens to my cholesterol levels. Any one else game?

A few more notes: The Clue Bar contains oats and flour, which means a gluten-rich snack that is inappropriate for those with celiac disease. Bee pollen means this product is not vegan. Although some of the ingredients are listed as organic, the Clue Bar is not certified organic.

The bars are available primarily online. A box of 30 is $67.50, plus shipping. The price per bar is reduced with a three-month supply.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 4, 2007; 12:22 PM ET Nutrition
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

kim, I'm curious, how many calories does a clue bar have?

Posted by: meg | April 4, 2007 1:05 PM

If you click on the clue bar link, it takes you to the website with all the nutrition info. It has 180 calories.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 1:12 PM

Do they have any bars without nuts? I have diabetes and need to make sure whatever carbs I take in are nutritionally rich (i.e. no white pasta anymore) but am also allergic to nuts.

Posted by: Meg | April 4, 2007 1:53 PM

Kim, just judging by some of the recipes you have posted, you eat quite a bit of meat and full-fat dairy products, as well as eggs. Have you considered scaling way back on the meat and using skim in as many things as you can? My husband went about 50% veg, and the meat he eats is low fat and hormone free, and he eats all skim. He does have treats after dinner occasionally of really good ice cream (full fat, but just a spoonful), a cookie, or dark chocolate and his cholestrol has gone from 224 to 157 in a year. He notes it hasn't been hard to cut way back on the meat.

Posted by: Jean | April 4, 2007 1:55 PM

Jean -- Kim has been posting for a while about how she's a true omnivore and eats more than half her meals with meat!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 2:10 PM

It's your bodies' chemistry stupid! Maybe a few people can use exercise and diet to move a few points like 190 to 175...maybe, but your cholesterol levels, HDL, LDL are a chemical function in your body such as thyroid levels. A statin drug brought me from 300+ down to 170 with NO change in diet!!! No diet or supplement would do that.

Posted by: Richard | April 4, 2007 2:18 PM

right, and I am suggesting she cut back on the meat and the fat. more than half her meals to fewer than that and less full-fat items.

Posted by: Jean | April 4, 2007 2:26 PM

You mention statins as an initial way to lower your cholesterol. I take a small dose of Mevacor each day and I also take a much larger (3000 mg divided into three portions) dose of fish oil (in capsule form)and 2250 mg. of Niacin (tablets) also spread over three meals. These have helped maintain a very low LDL and raised my minuscule HDL. I also spend an hour each day at high level aerobic exercise.
Why not try the fish oil and niacin as another device to bring your lipids under control?

Posted by: Steve | April 4, 2007 2:29 PM

it is correct that the "greens" (hydrilla, other water plants) reduce cholestrol. They are the source for the Omega-3s that end up in fish, and are where the fish get them. Vegetarians take these to get non-animal Omega-3s

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 3:09 PM

You know, a bowl of oatmeal is a heck of a lot cheaper than these snack bars...

Posted by: Steve | April 4, 2007 3:17 PM

Kim, I've been eating a bowl of oat bran mornings for years; I love it. My cholesterol a few months ago in spite of being a vegan was 256; I lowered it to 185 by eating a small amount of cinnamon three times a day. I can't tolerate statins or any other cholesterol-lowering drug: I get insomnia, muscle pain, etc. Everyone in my family going back two generations has died of heart disease, some young. I had a coronary stent at 56 (eight years ago) but have passed all nuclear treadmill tests since then. I usually walk 4-5 miles a day and do isometrics every other day. Maybe a major thing is taking a huge amount of cranberry extract every day; the substance has helped specially created pigs to resist atherosclerosis in studies at the U. of Wisconsin.

Posted by: Harry | April 4, 2007 3:20 PM

i recently learned that you can get a CT scan to determine the extent of arterial sclerosis that has occurred. For people with "anomalous" high cholesterol (such as myself, a normal weight, healthy premenopausal woman whose cholesterol levels have run around 240 since they were first tested in college), it can determine whether your "good" cholesterol is really overpowering the bad and keeping your arteries clean, or if you really do have a problem and should consider the meds. Not all insurance will pay for this scan, but it's incredibly worthwhile. Ask your doctor.

Posted by: Washington, DC | April 4, 2007 3:22 PM

Interesting about the HDL: before taking the cranberry extract it was the barely normal 41; now it's 54. I'd love to get it over 60. I too take fish oil, six grams a day, my only concession to animal food; I've read that the omega 3 from plants is not nearly as effective as the animal source, short chain versus long chain. As for being a vegan, it's hardly the drag many people think it might be, at least for me, and I've been doing it since I discovered I can't tolerate statins, etc., eight years. Spices makes a big difference and olive and other oils sure are great. Hey, pasta and rice are from plants and hardly anyone dislikes them.

Posted by: Harry | April 4, 2007 3:47 PM

You know, I am offended by some of the posts regarding Kim's choice of foods. She doesn't only eat what is written about in this blog. If you read her chats you can see that she talks about lots of healthy foods that she also eats. She is trying to share information and possibly help some of you. So, to scorn her for also eating some meat and cheese is just plan rude.

Posted by: JN | April 4, 2007 4:38 PM

My brother had high cholesterol and lowered his total number by more than 100 points simply by changing his diet and increasing his exercise. But then he is free-lance and so has more time for exercise than most of it.

Nonetheless, the point is, it is possible for at least some people to effect a radical lowering of the number without recourse to medications.

A few years later, I had the same problem and was able to achieve results similiar to those of my brother through similiar means. But I really really miss the cheese.

Posted by: Chris | April 4, 2007 4:49 PM

what scorn?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 4:59 PM

Harry, could you be more specific in the amounts of cinnamon and cranberry extract that you consume?

I just recently had a blood lipid profile performed and my triglycerides were through the roof and the other numbers (total cholesterol, HDL, and LDL) were just barely okay. Just barely. So, I'm looking into ways of improving my numbers even though my diet is healthy one.

Posted by: Little Red | April 4, 2007 5:04 PM

Chiming in to say, yeah, the scoldings and assumptions about problems in Kim's diet are uncalled-for.

Having said that, Kim, is it the time it takes to cook the oatmeal or do you just not like the stuff in bowl form? Because if it's the time, I find that a good breakfast alternative is to soak oats in milk, as little as a few minutes or as long as overnight. Sweeten if you like, add cinnamon, seeds, dried fruit and/or nuts to taste, and you're good to go.

Posted by: csdiego | April 4, 2007 5:27 PM

I've never liked oatmeal (gag-inducing texture) but am sold on a Steel-cut Oatmeal recipe tested on and swear by it for deliciousness and ease. Make a big batch then reheat a bowlful each morning with a handful of dried fruit and it is very tummy-comforting!

Posted by: AB | April 4, 2007 5:53 PM

Another oatmeal suggestion - I really really hate gloppy oatmeal, so I use a ratio of slightly more than 1 cup water to 3/4 c steelcut oats and either bake it or cook it in my rice cooker.

The texture is more like sticky rice or a grain - nothing like "porridge".

Posted by: Leslie | April 4, 2007 6:09 PM

About 7 weeks ago, I started an "experiment" to see if a very-low-fat diet (Ornish), combined with exercise, would bring my LDL down 63 points by August. At last count, it was 193. Like many others reading this blog, several of my relatives died of sudden cardiac arrest in their 40s and 50s. I wasn't particularly bothered by the number till I turned 50.

So far it's been a surprisingly humorous journey. I'm blogging about my escapades at in Albany, NY.

Thanks for sharing the tip about cranberry extract-- I'll have to think about this.

My husband's Armenian barber read one of my articles in the paper yesterday and said, "Why bother eating such an austere diet? Just take the Lipitor and enjoy your baklava."

I'll have to think about this, too.

Happy Easter everyone!

Posted by: Gwen | April 4, 2007 6:09 PM

Hi, Little Red,

Yes, I take roughly a half teaspoonful of cinnamon at each breakfast, lunch and dinner. It also lowers the glucose in the blood quite a bit. The people at the USDA lab in Beltsville (I think) discovered this and you can Google it to find out the details. And I take a lot - maybe 15-20 a day - of the cranberry capsules, 405 mg each, Nature's Resource, (but I imagine any brand works) from the grocery store. I open them up and sprinkle on food. It might work the same way as it does in clearing up bladder infections: it prevents certain bacteria from adhering to surfaces inside the body rather than kill them and flushes them out. Since bacteria comprise part of the arterial plaque I suspect it prevents them from adhering in the first place and loosens up and reduces the stuff that's already there. It apparently also raises HDL. I was originally eating a big bag of cranberries a day but got sick of that.

Posted by: Harry | April 4, 2007 6:35 PM

Sorry...that was a mistype -- meant that she eats more than half of her meals WITHOUT meat. In otherwords, she's halfway between folk like me and a regular vegetarian.

Posted by: Anon at 210 | April 4, 2007 6:42 PM

Try the following nutitional supplement. Google it for more info. "Red Yeast Rice" ... Only use the Extended Release product ... And, Only take this before going to sleep at night.

Two years ago I went to the health food store asking if there is a supplement to manage higher (220 level) cholesterol level. 7 weeks later I tested 175. All the related numbers fell into the normal range. For two years, now, I have not tested over 178.

It is also wise to take CO Q10 with this product.
This site has additional information:

My internest informed me he is receiving positive results from patients who Do Not take the meds for higher chlolesterol when using Red Yeast Rice (this is not a trade name...rather, the name of the supplement).

If you take one before going to sleep (I was told most cholestoral is made at night), use the extended release version, and, take with CO Q 10 product you just might have the surprise of your life without any of the side effects associated with meds.

I feel this supplement, taken as I have described, is a life saver.
And I want to share this with as many people as possible,

Posted by: Henry | April 4, 2007 6:59 PM

Go to Trader Joe's and get a cannister of inexpensive Psyllium Husk. It has 8x as much soluble fiber as oatbran (let alone oatmeal) by volume. It has no taste (or calories) of its own, so sprinkle 1-3 tablespoons on your favorite breakfast cereal and drink plenty of water. It's also the active ingredient in Metamucil, so don't overdo it, because it is very filling, unless you want that for appetite control.

Posted by: DudleyDoWrite | April 4, 2007 7:24 PM

I second Harry's oat bran endorsement! Hot oat bran cereal cooks up quickly in the microwave and doesn't feel as leaden in your tummy as rolled oats. AND it has more soluble fiber (the stuff that's helping to lower cholesterol) per serving than rolled oats. What's not to love?

Posted by: Lucas | April 4, 2007 7:25 PM

The only thing diet and exercise did for me was to make me lactose intolerant. But Zocor and its generic version have done wonders. Just my individual case.

Posted by: Gary Masters | April 4, 2007 7:32 PM

Save your money. Don't buy these fad foods that promise to keep you on top of the sod. They do not work. Eat sensibly a well balanced diet. Have you noticed that each decade the American Heart Association has lowered the targeted permissible cholesterol levels and still heart disease and stroke have remained the no. 1 and no. 3 killers of Americans with little actual improvement in mortality to show for their efforts. We are now spending mega billions on cholesterol drugs that have had little impact on mortality. Actually mathematical analysis would show that these two conditions more closely follow and infectious disease model than that of an environmental and behavior model. Your body makes cholesterol it is necessary for you to have it to live. If fact post menopausal women who have low cholesterol numbers advocated by the AHA have a much higher probably of dying of all causes than women who have higher cholesterol measurements. In other words they are sickly. For decades we have misidentified cholesterol as a causative factor in a number of separately identified diseases. I'll give you a metaphor that explains it. Our experts have seen that each time that a bank has been robbed there were police standing around afterward. Therefore it must be the police that are robbing the banks. To the extent you cholesterol medication lowers inflammation from infection it might help. You can get better results taking aspirin, having a drink, taking low dose long term antibiotics as used to be prescribed for acne treatments. There is little incentive for real research into the abundant evidence of an infectious disease as a causative agent in heart disease. Why is this? The health care of this country and most other western countries has been hijacked by the pharmaceutical industry and technology companies who provide the dramatic and heroic but as we are now seeing largely useless angioplasty, stents and other expensive and invasive procedures. In our hubris we have not progressed much in almost 700 years as we still ascribe disease to non infectious causes and in almost identical 14 century terms as they did the Black death to *vapors* what we would call *environmental or lifestyle* factors today. Or as they said in the middle ages *humors* when they used leaches and used a lancet to bleed patients to get their blood chemistry right. Today we use cholesterol pills, statins to get our blood humors right. Do not let the alarmist who pump out bogus research conclusions scare you away form eating decent food and enjoying it. Get yourself a good juicy steak and a good bottle of wine. Cheers!

Posted by: Redman | April 4, 2007 7:44 PM

what's so bad about oatmeal? Ponder the idea of a heart attack, add a few raisins and brown sugar, you're there. Take metamucil with every meal, too -- you need the fiber for more than cholesterol control, and they even make cookies, if you're so hooked on eating junk.

Posted by: ogden, utah | April 4, 2007 7:55 PM

A lively chat, for a change! Kim, you haven't scolded anyone for disagreeing with your opinion. Married life got you preoccupied?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 8:27 PM

Red Yeast Rice (extended release/1 before bed)
Google it.

Posted by: Henry | April 4, 2007 8:42 PM

Thanks for the information, Harry. I will check out the information on both cinnamon and cranberry extract.

I've never heard of this red yeast rice. So, this is another thing to research.

This has been a very productive and active discussion. Thanks everybody.

Posted by: Little Red | April 4, 2007 10:30 PM

I'm also not a fan of plain-old oatmeal. I recently tried a new product, however, and I'm hooked. It's produced by Old Wessex, and it's a 5-grain hot cereal. It's chewy, not sloppy. I need protein in the morning, so I add a scoop of whey protein (vanilla) and a handfull of dried cherries. It's quite delish.

Posted by: ekh7q | April 5, 2007 10:41 AM

Try Crecent Dragonwagon's recipe for steel-cut oats prepared overnight in the crock pot. We make this fairly often with a load of dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, cherries, fresh apple), then top it with a little skim milk and maple syrup. It has turned many a non-oatmeal eater around, and it is really easy/fast in the morning.
That said - I am not sure I could anything every morning, so the more variety, the better! The bars are probably cheaper than the statins if they work.

Posted by: colorado | April 5, 2007 1:06 PM

This sounds pretty yummy. I happen to love oatmeal, but I know I'm weird. I recently tried the Quaker Breakfast cookies as an on-the-go substitute and was not impressed. They were more caloric than oatmeal and didn't fill me up in the same way. I'll try the Clue bars. Sometimes I just don't have the time for even instant oatmeal.

Kim, one of my favorite ways to have oatmeal is in pancakes. Just sub oatmeal cooked with minimal water for most of the flour. It gives it a heartier texture, but not a goopy oatmeal texture. Of course the butter that I must slather on top pretty much elimantes any health benefits....

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | April 5, 2007 1:12 PM

Harry (and others): Please be careful with cinnamon! It contains coumarin, a blood thinner, which can damage your liver. Here's a useful website produced by the German government:

Posted by: Reine de Saba | April 5, 2007 1:35 PM

Reine de Saba, thanks for the link! I read it and I am cutting down the amount of cinnamon I take. I see my cardiologist in late April and I'll ask him about a blood test for liver enzymes. Knowing him I doubt if he knows about cinnamon one way or another. Twenty years ago I had the pleasure of introducing my regular doctor to the effect of fish oil on the heart; I had read a big story in the Post. Thanks again.

Posted by: Harry | April 6, 2007 12:19 PM

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