By Joy Saudargas, MA, RD, LDN
High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for developing heart disease. When there’s too much cholesterol in the blood, it can build up in arteries causing them to harden and narrow – a condition call atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease. When arteries become narrow, blood flow to the heart can slow down or become blocked, causing a heart attack.
Lifestyle choices, such as your diet, can increase your risk of developing high cholesterol. But it can also play an important role in lowering it, especially when paired with exercise and other heart-healthy habits. Here are five foods that can help lower your cholesterol level.
Fish and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots. Omega-3 fatty acids don’t have an impact on your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – which is the “bad” kind – but they can help lower elevated blood triglyceride levels, or fat in the blood.
In order to reap the benefits of fish’s heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, the American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish each week. Fish with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Lake trout
- Albacore tuna
Oatmeal and High-fiber Foods
Ditch your white toast and sugary breakfast cereal for some oatmeal or oat bran for your first meal of the day – it contains soluble fiber, which is credited with reducing your LDL cholesterol level. Additionally, soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. This type of fiber isn’t just in oatmeal – it’s also found in foods like apples, pears, barley, kidney beans and prunes.
Eating five to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber can decrease your total and LDL cholesterol levels. For reference, a one-and-half-cup serving of cooked oatmeal give you 6 grams of fiber. The recommended daily amount of total fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Studies have shown that adding one of these little green vegetables to your heart-healthy diet each day can help improve LDL cholesterol levels in overweight or obese individuals. Avocados are a rich source of nutrients and monounsaturated fatty acids.
This doesn’t mean you should start chowing down on guacamole and unhealthy corn tortilla chips. Instead, get the benefits of avocado by adding it to salads, sandwiches or simply by itself as a side dish. And if you want guacamole, make it better for you by dipping raw veggies into it instead.
This is another great source of monounsaturated fatty acid, which is considered a healthy dietary fat. It can not only lower your total and LDL cholesterol, but it can also help normalize blood clotting. Some research shows the fat in olive oil can also benefit insulin levels and help control blood sugar.
Gain the heart-healthy benefits of olive oil by using 2 tablespoons of it a day in place of other fats in your diet. Do this by sautéing your vegetables in it, as a marinade, as a dip for bread and as salad dressing with vinegar.
Since both olive oil and avocados are high in calories, it’s important to only eat the recommended amount.
Some people think nuts are fatty, salty, high in calories, and simply junk food. But there are certain nuts that are not only healthy, but can also improve your cholesterol level. Nuts are high in fiber, protein, vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, which is what gives them their cholesterol-lowering power. Good nuts to snack on for heart-health benefits include walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios and some pine nuts.
Nuts are high in calories, so stick to about a handful a day, which is about 1.5 ounces – and make sure they’re not coated in salt or sugar.
About the Author
Joy Saudargas, MA, RD, LDN
Joy specializes in medical nutrition therapy. One of her favorite things about being a Registered Dietitian at Crozer-Keystone Health System is the sense of community and togetherness she experiences within the system.
To schedule a nutrition appointment, please call 800-254-3258.