High cholesterol blood levels have complications, which put you at a high risk of heart attack and stroke. One main reason for high cholesterol blood levels is having a diet with foods that increase your cholesterol levels. This post explains and lists out foods that you must eat to lower your raised cholesterol levels and stay healthy.
There are many other causes that raise your cholesterol levels but having a meal every day that speaks of a diet consisting of foods, which contain saturated fats and too much cholesterol is the leading cause.
You must, therefore, avoid such high cholesterol foods, especially if your levels are already high or you have a family history or if you harbor any risk factors.
There are many foods that have low cholesterol and the list is long with many choices. You must, under such circumstances, incorporate them into your daily menu.
Most of the time, the raised cholesterol level can be brought down naturally without medication by sticking to a properly planned low cholesterol diet and regular exercise. And, this can be done pretty fast provided you are regular and sincere.
This is the preferred way to bring it down. Medicines once started can be a lifetime commitment.
There are two main types of cholesterol:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is called bad cholesterol, whose high levels can cause complications that can be serious, and
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is referred to as good cholesterol because it helps to remove the bad cholesterol from your body.
When we talk of cholesterol, we talk of LDL, the bad cholesterol that needs to be lowered to its optimal levels and increase the HDL, the good cholesterol.
The goal, therefore, is to lower LDL and increase HDL. And, that is exactly what your diet and physical activity lifestyle aim to do.
List of dietary foods that lower LDL cholesterol naturally
Cholesterol-lowering foods are mostly of plant origins such as whole grains and cereals, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. They do not contain cholesterol. Animal origin foods do.
However, some seafood such as salmon, tuna, and sardines contains heart and brain healthy omega-3 fats.
According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, vegetarians were associated with lower levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL as compared to omnivores.
Another study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that vegetarians had a 24% lower mortality rate from ischemic heart disease than non-vegetarians.
1. Foods rich in soluble fiber
These foods top the list in importance. They reduce the absorption of cholesterol from the food that we eat. Their importance lies in the fact that these foods lower the LDL cholesterol without lowering the HDL cholesterol.
Foods rich in soluble fiber are:
- Whole Grains. Such whole grains include barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, rice, rye, oats, sorghum, wheat bran, and wild rice. (source: FDA News)
- Oatmeal and oat bran
How much soluble fiber do you need?
All you need is about 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber in your everyday diet. This reduces LDL cholesterol by 5% to 20%.
But, according to The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), 10 to 25 g of soluble fiber is recommended per day to lower LDL cholesterol even more.
Ideally, you should eat 30 gms of fiber every day, of which 10 gms should be insoluble fiber.
As an example, one bowl of oatmeal contains 3 gms of soluble fiber. A detailed list of foods and their soluble fiber content can be found at fatfreekitchen.com
How does fiber reduce cholesterol?
Fiber is of two types: insoluble and soluble and both are present in fiber-containing foods and they are both important for your good health.
Insoluble fiber is not absorbed from the intestines and is excreted as it is. But, it helps in accelerating the movements of the food through the intestines and makes the bowel movements regular.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water in the GI tract and becomes gel-like in consistency slowing down the food for proper digestion.
One way soluble fiber may reduce blood cholesterol is through its ability to prevent the reabsorption of bile from the intestines. The bile is excreted through the feces.
The body compensates for this loss by making the liver produce more bile salts of which cholesterol is one of the main components. The body draws LDL cholesterol from the blood to make the bile salts, thereby reducing the blood cholesterol levels.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy nutrients that lower your LDL or bad cholesterol, triglycerides and increase your HDL or good cholesterol.
They also reduce your blood pressure and blood clotting risks thereby protecting you from heart disease.
Rich food sources of Omega 3 fatty acids are mainly fish. These fish are to be baked or grilled. Avoid eating fried fish or fry them using healthy oils.
- Lake trout
- Tuna shrimp
- Avoid shellfish such as shrimps, lobsters, crayfish, and crabs.
Small amounts of omega 3 fatty acids are also present in
- ground flaxseed and
- canola oil
How much Omega 3 fatty acids do you need?
The American Heart Association recommends two servings of baked or grilled fish per week. If you do not eat fish, you could take a handful of nuts like walnuts per day. Do not exceed, as nuts have high-calorie content.
3) Sterol and Stanol fortified foods
Sterols and Stanols are naturally occurring compounds found in fruits and plants. They are structurally similar to cholesterol. They are waxy in nature and like cholesterol, they are not soluble in blood. They compete with cholesterol in being absorbed and block the cholesterol from being absorbed.
Many manufacturers add these compounds to their products. You, therefore find anything from milk to cookies to snack bars to fruit juices to margarine spreads fortified with sterol and stanol.
Use discretion when consuming foods fortified with sterol and stanol because some of them may be high in calories. Check the labels carefully.
How do Sterols and Stanols reduce LDL?
Being similar to cholesterol in nature, they interfere and block the absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract.
Cholesterol, therefore, is excreted instead of being absorbed. Their action extends only to LDL and they do not interfere with the levels of HDL or triglycerides.
Food Sources of Sterol and Stanol
- Fruits such as apples, blueberries, and avocados
- Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and blueberries
- Whole Grains or Cereals
- Vegetable oils
How much Sterols and Stanols do you need?
A daily serving of 2 grams of plant sterols through fortified foods such as margarine, orange juice, and rice milk can reduce LDL by as much as 15% in persons who have raised LDL values.
Sterol and stanol fortified foods such as orange juices can be taken every day if your LDL levels are high but stay around 2 gms. The labels on these products will help you to calculate your intake.
Nuts are rich in polyunsaturated fats which are the good or healthy fats. They also contain plant sterols, fiber, and antioxidants like Vitamin E and Selenium. Nuts reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL, the good cholesterol.
In a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating 1.5 oz of whole walnuts 6 days a week for 1 month can lower your total cholesterol by 5.4% and LDL cholesterol by 9.3%.
Such common nuts to eat daily include
- Pine nuts
- Pistachio nuts
How much nuts do you need?
You need just a handful or 1.5 ounces every day should be enough. Do not exceed because they are high in calories. (As recommended by the US FDA)
5) Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is preferred over virgin oil because it is less processed and its antioxidant content is more than the normally processed oil. Due to its high antioxidant content, olive oil reduces LDL cholesterol without interfering with HDL cholesterol levels.
The antioxidants in the oil reduce your risk of many health conditions including heart disease.
How much olive oil do you need daily?
The Food and Drug Administration recommends 2 tablespoons or 23 grams of olive oil per day. You could use it as a marinade or a salad dressing.
Please note that you should not exceed this recommended quantity because olive oil is high in calories.
Be sure you buy your oil from a reputed retail outlet because cheap and even adulterated versions are available.
6) Pomegranate juice
Pomegranate juice provides you with good quantities of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, and folic acid.
It has very powerful antioxidant properties and helps in reducing cholesterol plaque formation on the arterial walls thereby preventing cardiac disease.
It also increases nitric acid production in the body, which again helps to keep the arteries clear. A glass of pomegranate juice every day can do wonders for your heart.
Avocados is a healthy fruit that contains healthy unsaturated fats, which increase HDL (good cholesterol levels) and guards you against heart disease and diabetes as well. However, show discretion in eating the amount of this fruit as it is high in calorie content.
Blueberries contain cholesterol and a fat-reducing compound called pterostilbene, which helps to lower LDL cholesterol. This compound also exhibits anti-cancer and anti-diabetes properties.
Research indicates that berries activate certain cells in the liver that help flush out cholesterol by 44%.
9) Grape juice
Due to its rich antioxidant content, grape juice lowers LDL levels effectively by slowing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. You could even eat the grape instead of its juice.
Grapes, red and purple, are a rich source of antioxidants, resveratrol, and flavonoids.
The Open Biochemistry Journal published a study in its 2010 issue, which found that consuming about 5 ounces of red grape juice twice a day significantly increased HDL levels at the end of a month.
You could read the post on which high cholesterol foods you should not eat to prevent cholesterol problems. These foods elevate cholesterol levels and you should avoid them.
If you have high LDL cholesterol levels or are prone due to a hereditary trait, it is essential that you stick to this low cholesterol diet.
Most of the time, following this dietary regimen lifelong along with healthy lifestyle habits will help you control your blood cholesterol level without any medication.
- Choose only whole grains
- Reduce intake of sugar
- Avoid foods that contain refined sugar
- Eat five portions of fruits and vegetables every day
- Eat 2 portions or more of fish every week
- Eat a minimum of 4 to 5 portions of unsalted nuts, seeds, and legumes every week.