By Lynn Yoffee | Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
A few simple changes in what you eat can have a big impact on your cholesterol levels.
You know you aren’t doing your health any favors by indulging in fried foods or fatty meats — but eating the right types of food can actually help lower your cholesterol. In fact, diet plays a crucial role helping to prevent heart disease, heart attack, and stroke: According to data from the U.S. National Institute of Health, 25 percent of your cholesterol comes from your diet, and the rest is manufactured by your body.
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According to Samantha Heller, MS, RD, formerly a clinical nutritionist at New York University Langone Medical Center and host of a live show on Sirius Satellite’s station DOCTOR Radio, in order to lower high cholesterol, you need to reduce your intake of bad fats, curb your use of salt and high sodium foods, and restrict or stop drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.
Once you reduce your intake of these foods, Heller suggests focusing on the following five cholesterol-lowering foods to help reduce your risk of heart disease:
1. Eat Fruits and Vegetables
Packed with vitamins, minerals, the healthy plant chemicals called phytochemicals, and antioxidants, vegetables help fight low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol that can lead to the buildup of plaque in your arteries, a major risk factor for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Eat a variety of vegetables every week to get the full array of health benefits they have to offer. Fruits are excellent sources of healthy phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fiber, too.
2. Choose Healthy Fats
Not all fats are bad. You need the good ones, which include olive, canola, flax, walnut, peanut, and sesame oils. These oils help fight internal inflammation, improve cholesterol levels, boost the immune system, and keep your brain and central nervous system healthy.
The American Heart Association suggests keeping your fat intake to between 25 percent and 35 percent of your total calories each day. Keep saturated fats to less than 7 percent and consumption of trans fats should be limited to less than 1 percent of your calories every day.
3. Eat Plenty of Fiber
Eat foods high in fiber, such as barley, oatmeal, and apples, which contain soluble fiber that helps bind cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract and carry it out of the body. Make these foods a regular part of your diet.
While oatmeal and apples are familiar foods, not everybody is used to eating barley. Try substituting barley pilaf for rice. Barley adds a chewy, nutty-tasting side dish to meals and can help reduce your cholesterol. Check out the Everyday Health Recipe Index and search for barley recipes.
4. Go Nuts for Nuts
Eaten in moderation, certain nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, and peanuts, can help to lower bad cholesterol. Nuts contain healthy fats and antioxidants that can keep your cardiovascular system healthy.
Each week, you should include three to five servings of nuts. One serving of nuts is usually about one-third of a cup. But be sure to keep strict tabs on how much you eat, because nuts are also high in calories. Also, choose unsalted nuts when possible.
5. Beans Are Good for Your Heart
All variety of beans, such as kidney, chick peas (garbanzos), lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas, and white beans, are high in antioxidants and fiber, and can help improve your cholesterol profile.
Meat and Cholesterol
Animal fat is a big cause of elevated cholesterol levels, but not all meat is bad for you. Here are some tips to keep in mind when cooking and eating meats:
Choose lean cuts of meat with minimal visible fat, and broil rather than fry the meat.
When it comes to poultry, eat chicken or turkey rather than goose or duck, which are high in fat. Remove the skin before cooking, and if not before cooking, at least before eating.
Limit processed meats, such as bologna, sausage, and hot dogs, because they’re often high in fat and sodium.
Organ meats of all kinds should be eaten only occasionally because they are extremely high in cholesterol.
Eat two servings of fish a week, preferably an oily kind, such as salmon or trout.
Combined with exercise and other lifestyle changes, a healthy diet can do wonders for cholesterol levels. By incorporating these healthy-eating tips into your daily routine, you can reduce your cholesterol level and keep your weight in check.