Changing your diet can have powerful effects on cholesterol levels, helping to lower harmful (LDL) cholesterol and boost helpful (HDL) cholesterol. Cholesterol is so vital for human survival that the body leaves nothing to chance and produces it in the liver. Naturally occurring cholesterol helps to regulate and maintain the health and function of cellular structures, aids in hormone production, creates the bile salts necessary for digestion and assists in vitamin D synthesis. It is believed that the liver manufactures approximately 75% of our total blood cholesterol and that the balance comes from dietary sources.
Although we cannot control genetic influences on our natural cholesterol production, we can control dietary influences. A diet high in saturated fats and trans fats found largely in animal products is known to contribute to elevated cholesterol levels, contributing to the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Every day 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease, one death every 39 seconds! Lifestyle changes that include following a heart-healthy diet, increasing physical activity, and shunning tobacco smoke can help you avoid becoming a statistic.
Just as you can eat your way to high cholesterol levels, you can eat your way to lower cholesterol levels by adding certain foods and eliminating others. Different foods can affect cholesterol in various ways. Foods high in fiber help to rid the body of cholesterol before it gets into the bloodstream. Other foods can block the absorption of cholesterol. Adding these foods and cutting back on less healthy choices can positively affect your cholesterol levels:
- Oats and oat bran. Remember that old saying, “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away.”? A bowl of oatmeal or other oat cereal for breakfast each morning will typically provide four grams of soluble fiber. Although all whole grains contain fiber, oats have the highest levels of soluble fiber. Add some fresh fruit for even more benefit.
- Olive oil. Substituting olive oil, which is high in healthy monounsaturated fat, for other oils that are high in saturated fat can help lower harmful cholesterol without affecting good cholesterol. Although olive oil is healthy, it is still high in calories. The FDA recommends using 2 tablespoons daily as a replacement for less healthy oils.
- Cold water fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are rich in the polyunsaturated fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are thought to improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduce inflammation and decrease blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends eating a variety of fish at least twice a week or supplementing with EPA and DHA for those who don’t care for fish.
- Nuts, while high in calories, contain heart-healthy fats, antioxidants and minerals. The cholesterol-lowering effects of nuts such as almonds, walnuts and brazil nuts are attributed to their unsaturated fat content, fiber and phytonutrients. Eat a handful of nuts instead of a snack that is high in sugar or saturated fat.
- Plant sterols and stanols – Also called phytosterols, these compounds are found in small quantities in many plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, and vegetable oils. These can also be found in supplements and in enriched products such as orange juice and some margarines. Phytosterols can lower LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL cholesterol or triglyceride levels, as they block absorption of cholesterol from the digestive tract.
- Psyllium, a natural source of soluble fiber, is derived from the husks of psyllium seeds. Psyllium has been shown to lower blood cholesterol and may also decrease intestinal absorption of cholesterol.
- Avocados – Avocados contain significant amounts of oleic acid, a healthy monounsaturated fat that helps lower bad cholesterol and boost good cholesterol. Avocados are also rich in fiber and a plant chemical called beta-sitosterol, both of which help keep cholesterol in check.
- Legumes are packed with protein, have little or no fat, and are loaded with fiber, iron, calcium and potassium.
- Tomatoes contain lycopene which helps to reduce cholesterol, especially when cooked in a sauce or soup.
- Tea, both green and black, contains catechins, a type of antioxidant with a cholesterol lowering effect.
For the most benefit, reduce the amount of cholesterol in the diet. Cut back on saturated fats found in red meat, dairy, coconut oil, and palm oil. Substitute lean sources of protein, low fat dairy, and healthy oils such as olive oil or sunflower seed oil. Avoid trans fats that increase bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. A diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, lean protein, and low fat dairy not only helps to lower cholesterol, it’s good for bones and digestive health, keeps blood pressure in check, helps maintain healthy blood glucose levels and benefits overall health and wellness.
Psyllium Husks Fiber 500 mg by Solgar – A great source of soluble fiber and a healthy addition to your diet.
Plant Sterols by Ortho Molecular – With 650 mg of sterol esters to aid in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels.
Niacin 100 by Biotic Research – Niacin, or Vitamin B3, is recognized as a cardio-protective agent, primarily due to its action in inhibiting triglyceride hydrolysis, resulting in both an increased HDL and a lowered triglyceride level.