Cholesterol in our bodies comes from two primary sources: natural production by the liver and animal products like meat, dairy and eggs. Cholesterol plays a vital role in digesting fat, hormone production and the formation of Vitamin D in the skin. Your cholesterol level is an indicator of how much fat is being carried in your blood.
Having high total cholesterol, or low levels of HDL cholesterol (known as good cholesterol) in combination with high levels of LDL cholesterol (known as bad cholesterol), puts people at increased risk for developing heart disease. Technically, HDL and LDL are lipoproteins that transport cholesterol throughout the body; HDL delivers it to the liver for elimination, but LDL sticks to the walls of your arteries, compromising blood flow.
Obvious dietary changes that support healthy cholesterol levels include reducing the amount of animal products you consume. Generally, meat portions the size of the palm of your hand is a good start. You can do more than just reduce your intake of cholesterol-you can also consume foods that naturally lower it. The following foods all contain cholesterol-fighting properties that raise your HDL or lower your LDL or both.
Slow-cooked oatmeal, not instant, is one of the first foods the FDA endorsed for its cholesterol-lowering abilities. While you’ll need to eat a sizable portion-3/4 cup-the fiber content in oatmeal not only helps move cholesterol through the body but it fills you up providing the added benefit of supporting any weight loss goals you may have. Try having a bowl of slow-cooked oatmeal for breakfast with blueberries, almonds or strawberries to start your day.
Salmon, sardines and mackerel are excellent sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids (cross link) which are noted for their ability to thin blood slightly to reduce the risk of clots. The American Heart Association recommends we eat two to three servings of cold-water fish per week, however, omega-3 essential fatty acids are also found in nuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds and even some leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens). If you must fry your fish, choose canola or olive oil so you don’t counteract the benefits of the fish with saturated fats.
While it’s true that avocados contain a significant amount of fat, the fat it contains is a healthy fat. Monosaturated fat, which is what avocados contain, provide the body with oleic acid which has been proven to lower your bad cholesterol and help raise your good cholesterol levels. Rich in taste and full of flavor, eating avocados often feels like a treat. Try it spread on toast in place of butter or spritz slices with lime or lemon juice for a guacamole-like snack.
An apple a day, does in fact, help keep the doctor away. In them, you’ll find pectin, a antioxidants (cross link) and a healthy dose of fiber, all of which work with your body to lower LDL and raise HDL levels. I’ll even allow you to drizzle your apple slices with chocolate or carmel syrup if you ask Dr. Yoder for his homemade recipes. Those recipes will have no un-natural ingredients. As with all fruits, wash them well before eating. You can further reduce your intake of pestisides by removing the skin. Sprinkle slices with cinnamon or tuck one in your bag to eat on the run.
Dark, leafy greens
Everyone can benefit from eating any recommended number of fruit and vegetable servings, but you can increase the benefits to your health by choosing dark, leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach and even lettuce. These vegetables are power-packed with vitamin A, calcium, iron and provide a good dose of fiber.
Eating salads as part of your daily diet is the easiest way to increase your vegetable intake. If you’re not a salad fan, prepare your greens as a side dish or use kale and chard in soups.
Like oatmeal, apples and leafy greens, legumes are full of cholesterol-fighting fiber. Beans, peas and lentils are also excellent sources of protein, so they not only contribute to heart health, but keep you feeling fuller for longer between meals and give your body what it needs to repair muscle tissue. Try substituting beans on any occasion you would normally eat a white potato. Choose dried beans and soak them yourself or if you must used canned, choose brands that are low in sodium and sugar. Rinse canned beans before you use them. Add them to soups, stews, chili and casseroles.
Blueberries, cranberries, grapes
Aside from being a summer favorite, these fruits are a good source of vitamin C and other antioxidants believe to reduce the risk of certain cancers. But the good news doesn’t end there. In addition to heart-healthy reservatol, which is found in grapes and red wine, blueberries contain a compound which appears to have similar cholesterol-fighting properties as reservatol. Eat them plain or mix them with oatmeal or low fat yogurt.
Almonds and walnuts are known to lower cholesterol. These snacks are high calorie (so limit your intake if you are watching your weight) but are packed with protein, good-for-you fat (monounsaturated fat) and can stave off hunger because they are satisfying. Like avocados, nuts are still high in fat and even though it’s the good kind, strive to limit your intake to a half cup a day.
Toss a handful of almonds or walnuts on your salad instead of croutons to add a healthy crunch. For the most benefit, eat your nuts raw. When it comes to roasted nuts, choose dry-roasted instead of those roasted in oil.
Raw or minimally processed soy products like edamame, soy milk and soy nuts activate enzymes in the body that help clear bad cholesterol from your system. Heavily process soy, like that used in frozen veggie burger patties, isn’t quite as effective. Swap peanuts for soy nuts as a snack, trade cow’s milk for soy in smoothies or add some edamame to soups, salads and casseroles.
With high amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids, you could easily rely on flax seed in place of salmon to help lower your cholesterol (good news for vegetarians). Set flax seed to lowering your LDL and triglycerides levels by purchasing them whole or ground. Sprinkle them on cereal and salads, add a tablespoon to smoothies, or mix them into pancake or muffin recipes. Try flax seed meal in your baking instead of white flour.
Try these additions or substitutions in your diet to lower your bad cholesterol. Nutrition shouldn’t be about depriving yourself of joy but with some small adjustments you can greatly improve your levels of cholesterol.