A diet rich in healthy fats, antioxidants and soluble fiber can keep your cholesterol levels in check.
- Foods filled with fiber, like whole grains, can help reduce the amount of cholesterol your body absorbs.
- A heart-healthy diet should also include less meat, fewer dairy fats and little to no saturated fat.
[4 MIN READ]
You've probably heard it before: Exercise, healthy lifestyle choices and a well-balanced diet all play an essential role in lowering your cholesterol.
But when it comes to a well-balanced diet, what foods are essential to have on your plate? With so many healthy ingredients available today, are there some you should prioritize?
It’s a fact—certain foods can help lower cholesterol. These foods can be an important addition to a heart-healthy diet that's already working to keep cholesterol levels in check. Read on to learn more about these cholesterol-lowering ingredients and delicious ways you can add them to your plate.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that circulates in your blood. It comes from either your liver, which naturally makes cholesterol to help build cells, or your diet (called dietary cholesterol) if it includes certain animal products, such as meat or dairy.
There are two types of cholesterol: There's "bad" cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol, and "good" cholesterol, or HDL cholesterol. Having too much LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol in your blood can raise your risk for severe health problems.
Why do I need to keep my cholesterol in check?
When LDL cholesterol builds up in the blood, it combines with other materials and thickens. This substance can stick to the walls of arteries and blood vessels, which hardens the arteries (also called atherosclerosis) and makes it difficult for blood to flow.
Eventually, blood that has trouble flowing can clot and block one of the arteries to the heart or brain, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, can help carry LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and into the liver, which can break down the cholesterol and help reduce your risk for heart attack or stroke.
While it's important to limit foods that can increase cholesterol, you can also help your heart health by incorporating ingredients that can actively lower your LDL cholesterol or raise levels of HDL cholesterol.
Foods that can help improve your cholesterol
The first step in lowering your cholesterol is reducing your dietary cholesterol in the first place. You can do this by:
- Eating less meat – Try meals that feature plant-based proteins, like beans, or "meaty" vegetables, like eggplant and mushrooms. If you do eat meat, try to stick to lean cuts with less fat (chuck, round or sirloin) or poultry (chicken and turkey).
- Reducing saturated fats – Saturated fats are found in fried and processed foods. Try baking foods, rather than frying, and limit fast food and processed meats like hot dogs and sausage.
- Limiting dairy fats – Stick to low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt whenever possible.
While it's important to limit foods that can increase cholesterol, you can also help your heart health by incorporating ingredients that can actively lower your LDL cholesterol or raise levels of HDL cholesterol. Here are a few of our favorites:
Studies have shown that eating dark chocolate can help your heart in many ways. Not only can it help improve blood flow and blood pressure, it may also improve overall cholesterol levels. The antioxidants in the dark chocolate can help reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol buildup in the blood.
More recent studies have shown that combining dark chocolate with almonds can also help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol.
While dark chocolate can be a healthy substitute for your sweet tooth cravings, remember to keep everything in moderation. Try sticking to just a few ounces of dark chocolate a week and keep it simple — avoid any bars that include added sugar or fat.
Nuts are loaded with healthy, unsaturated fats that can help lower LDL cholesterol. Research consistently shows that tree nuts — including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts — can not only lower cholesterol but also reduce fats in the blood, called triglycerides, that cause the arteries to harden and increase the risk for heart attack or stroke.
Tree nuts also have plant sterols, a substance that can help stop the body from absorbing dietary cholesterol.
Keep in mind that nuts are still high in calories, so aim for one-and-a-half ounces per day (about a handful). Try them for a healthy snack in the morning or afternoon, or add them to your oatmeal or low-fat yogurt for breakfast. And if possible, stick to unsalted nuts, as added sodium can increase your blood pressure.
Whole grains and other high-fiber foods
Fiber-packed whole grains, including oats, barley and oat bran, can all help keep your cholesterol levels in check. These foods feature soluble fiber, which can also help reduce the amount of cholesterol your body absorbs.
Try switching up your breakfast routine with different takes on oatmeal by adding various healthy toppings like fruit, nuts or honey. Or, you can swap out your rice side dish for barley.
Aim for 5 to 10 grams of high-fiber foods every day, making sure to mix in other fiber-full ingredients like bananas, pears, berries, apples and beans.
Avocados are more than just a trendy food. They're loaded with nutrients and a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. This healthy fat can boost HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol. Avocados can also add fiber to your diet, which helps your body absorb less cholesterol.
Avocados are loaded with nutrients and a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. This healthy fat can boost HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol.
Aside from the popular avocado toast, try using avocado as a substitute for less healthy spreads and dips. For example, you could try replacing mayonnaise with mashed avocado on your turkey sandwich. Or, try making a healthy avocado dip for vegetables and whole-grain crackers. Avocados can also be used as a binder for smoothies if you’re looking to mix up your recipes that often use bananas.
Raspberries are filled with an antioxidant called polyphenol, which can reduce LDL cholesterol levels in the blood and boost HDL cholesterol. Antioxidants can also help fight free radicals, chemicals in the body that can make LDL cholesterol more likely to stick to the side of an artery wall.
These tart and sweet fruits are a great addition to your morning breakfast routine (add them to oatmeal or low-fat yogurt). You could also try making a healthy raspberry vinaigrette for your lunch or dinner salad.
Like avocados, olive oil and other vegetable oils have healthy, unsaturated fats that can lower LDL cholesterol levels. Extra-virgin olive oil is the most beneficial option, as it's less processed and has more antioxidants.
Olive oil and other vegetable oils have healthy, unsaturated fats that can lower LDL cholesterol levels. Instead of using butter or lard for cooking meats and vegetables, try sautéing them in olive oil.
Instead of using butter or lard for cooking meats and vegetables, try sautéing them in olive oil. You can also use olive oil to make heart-healthy salad dressings. There are plenty of baked goods that can use olive oil, too! Try this delicious and healthy banana bread recipe that uses oil as a substitute for butter.
Consider swapping out one of your cups of coffee for a cup of tea. Research has shown that tea may reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. Green tea, in particular, was linked to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure in a 2014 study. A 2018 study also showed that tea drinkers (all types of tea) had slower age-related decreases of HDL cholesterol.
Studies have shown that fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while improving HDL cholesterol levels. Salmon and anchovies are both very high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids help the body create hormones that control inflammation, blood clotting and the contraction or relaxation of artery walls.
If you're not into fish, there are plenty of other foods that also contain these important fatty acids, including walnuts, vegetable oils, leafy vegetables and flax seeds.
Should I take supplements to reduce cholesterol?
The best way for your body to absorb vitamins and nutrients naturally is through food. However, some people may benefit from taking supplements like CoQ10 if their diet is falling short when it comes to improving cholesterol levels.
Always talk to your doctor before taking any new vitamins or supplements. They can recommend the right supplements and dosage to make sure you're getting all the nutrients your body needs to lower your risk for heart disease.
Find a doctor
You can learn more about your cholesterol levels and how to keep them in check by reaching out to your doctor. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.
Which foods can lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke? Share @providence. #hearthealth #nutrition
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
About the AuthorMore Content by Providence Heart & Vascular Team