Cholesterol is not exactly the sexiest of topics, but it’s an important one. Knowing which foods help improve cholesterol levels and incorporating them into your diet can be the key to keeping heart disease away. Almost 40% of American adults (equaling a whopping 94.6 million people) have high cholesterol and are at risk for heart disease or stroke. High cholesterol is said to cause about 2.6 million deaths each year. In other words, it’s not a diagnosis that one should ignore, especially when it can be reversed with changes to your diet.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in every cell of the body that aids in normal digestive function. It travels through the bloodstream in two types of lipoproteins that are have fat on the inside and proteins on the outside. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are known as the “good” cholesterol, because they transport excess cholesterol from other parts of your body to the liver, which then removes them from your body and lowering your chances of the buildup that can turn into heart disease. On the other hand, Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are known as “bad” cholesterol because it leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries which causes coronary heart disease.
Your body naturally makes all the cholesterol it needs to do its job, so when high cholesterol foods are consumed, that can throw off the levels of both good and bad lipoproteins in the body. High cholesterol is a condition that can have no symptoms, so many people don’t even know that their cholesterol levels are too high until they hear it from a doctor, until it has already become full blown heart disease – or worse. Fortunately for many people, making simple changes to your diet can help improve cholesterol levels by either bringing down the bad cholesterol, bringing up the good cholesterol, or both.
These 20 Foods Help Improve Cholesterol Levels
If you or a loved one have been told that it’s time to watch what you eat, here’s how you can help improve cholesterol levels through your diet. Keep in mind, however, that this is not a ticket to consume cholesterol-improving foods by the barrel. Improving your diet is key, but stick with the old adage of everything in moderation. Yet with 20 to choose from, there sure is plenty of variety available!
These foods help improve cholesterol levels:
You know what they say about an apple a day! Apples are loaded with soluble fiber, pectin and polyphenols, which can help you feel more full, improve metabolism of fats, and reduce inflammation in the body. Additionally, eating apples can lower bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol.
For generations, oats have been known to lower cholesterol levels and reduce a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Oats are high in beta-glucan, a viscous soluble fiber that experts believe is responsible for the cholesterol-improving benefits.
Eating barley or foods containing barley significantly reduced levels of two types of bad cholesterol – the low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and the non-high-density lipoprotein (non-HDL). One review even stated that barley has similar cholesterol-lowering effects as oats. Plus, barley is higher in fiber and can have up to double the protein and with fewer calories than oats.
Let’s talk about eggs for a moment. For many years, eggs were considered to be a food to avoid if you are at risk of high cholesterol or heart disease. As they say, though, we don’t know what we don’t know. Back then we didn’t know that eggs are actually not a concern for most people, especially those with normal cholesterol levels or no family history of cardiovascular disease. Though there is a fair amount of cholesterol in an egg, the lecithin in them blocks the absorption of the cholesterol when eaten. Some cholesterol is absorbed but the amount is significantly lower than previously thought. A recent study shows that eating an egg every day is not associated with an elevated risk of coronary heart disease. Eggs are also is a significant source of vitamins, including A, E, B-6, B-12 and folate.
For years, studies have shown the incredible health benefits and antioxidant effects of berries. Fresh berries can significantly reduce the buildup of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, a culprit that contributes to heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis. Blackberries have the highest LDL inhibitory effect, followed by red raspberries, sweet cherries, blueberries and strawberries. Additional research has shown that the bioactive compounds in strawberries help reduce bad cholesterol levels and protect against the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Red cabbage can help guard against excessive cholesterol, lower risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease and reduce their weight gain. Red cabbage is one of the items often found in the newly trendy salads containing microgreens, so your next meal can be both fashionable and healthy too!
Sometimes people shy away from avocadoes because they are known to be high in fat. Yet avocados contain healthy fats, and eating one a day can lower your cholesterol and improve your health. (They’re delicious too!) People on a moderate-fat diet who eat an avocado every day show lower bad cholesterol levels than those who don’t eat avocadoes.
Consuming flaxseeds daily can decreased cholesterol in men by almost 10% in just 3 months. For those people who prefer to try dietary making changes before taking medications, or for those who can’t take statins, adding flaxseeds to your meals could be helpful.
A diet rich in walnuts, which are high in polyunsaturated fats, can have a significant impact on lipid levels for women (especially those who are insulin-resistant). Adding walnuts to your nutrition plan can decrease bad cholesterol (LDL), and increase good cholesterol (HDL).
Pulses are a trendy term for legumes such as beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils. Pulses have a low glycemic index, and break down slowly in the body. Eating one serving a day (3/4 cup) of pulses can significantly reduce bad cholesterol and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. The typical American currently consumes less than half a serving a day on average.
Remember the old song about beans being good for your heart? Let’s forget about the rest of it, shall we?
Consuming grapefruit may help lower your risk for heart disease. And in a study of people who already have heart disease, one grapefruit daily significantly reduced levels of cholesterol. Both red and white grapefruit were effective, though red grapefruit showed slightly more significant results.
Grapefruit can adversely affect some medications, so consult with a doctor or pharmacist before consuming grapefruit products if you are on medication.
Fresh garlic helps to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. In fact, there’s a group of chemicals in garlic that has been found to decrease cholesterol production by a massive 40-60%. Isn’t that worth a little vampire breath?
You’ve probably heard before that salmon is healthy for you, as it has long been known to be beneficial. Increasing the intake of fatty fish such as salmon has shown to increase good cholesterol, potentially protecting against cardiovascular diseases.
Salmon is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a form of polyunsaturated fat benefits is their ability to reduce triglycerides, lower blood pressure slightly and reduce blood clotting – all of which are beneficial to heart health. The highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, trout, anchovies, sardines, and herring.
The reason why I’ve specifically noted “wild” salmon is that wild Pacific salmon is healthier than farmed salmon due to the levels of chemical contaminants being substantially higher in farmed salmon. (Though farmed salmon is said to have more omega-3 fatty acids than wild salmon.) The levels of chlorinated pesticides, dioxins, PCBs and other contaminants are up to 10 times greater in farm-raised salmon than in wild Pacific salmon, and that salmon farmed in Europe are more contaminated than salmon from South and North American farms.
Dark chocolate may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. (Hooray!) People who eat dark chocolate have lower blood glucose levels and bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, as well as higher good cholesterol (HDL) levels. Notice that we only said “dark” chocolate, because milk chocolate and white chocolate do not contain nearly the same levels of flavonoids as dark cocoa powder and dark chocolate.
Remember that this isn’t a free ticket to eat chocolate bars for breakfast! Though certain foods help improve cholesterol levels, we still need to focus on portion control and eating vitamin-rich foods first. Then again, consider eating a small square or two to satisfy that sweet tooth in a healthier way than other snack foods.
Moderate consumption of red wine is associated with a reduced risk for heart attack in part due to alcohol’s relationship to increased levels of HDL. Red wine drinkers’ good cholesterol levels are higher in components that can play a protective role in cardiovascular disease. Red wine also contains resveratrol, which controls the body’s inflammatory response. Don’t overdo it though!
Pomegranate, Tart Cherries & Dark Grapes
Also high in resveratrol are pomegranates, tart cherries and dark grapes. All three are strong sources of antioxidants and studies have shown that they have the ability to lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular risk factors.
The Mediterranean Diet
Did you know that these foods that help lower cholesterol levels are also the main components of the Mediterranean diet? As has been pointed out before on this site, a Mediterranean diet improves various areas of our health, including our good cholesterol levels. A Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may help the body keep blood vessels open and reduce cardiovascular risk.
If you’re ready to get started, here are 5 excellent Mediterranean diet cookbooks:
Knowing which foods help improve cholesterol levels and changing your diet to incorporate them can be enough to lower your heart disease risk.
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