Foods that lower cholesterol
Good cholesterol vs. Bad Cholesterol
Cholesterol comes from two sources: it’s produced in our livers and is found in foods we eat. Although your liver will adjust cholesterol production according to how much cholesterol you consume in your diet, eating foods high in saturated and trans fats can boost your “bad” cholesterol (i.e. low-density lipoproteins or LDLs) and lower your “good” cholesterol (i.e. high-density lipoproteins or HDLs), putting you at risk for heart disease. We discuss the differences between good and bad cholesterol here.
On the other hand, foods with soluble fibers and unsaturated fats can lower bad cholesterol and are great for overall health. Here are some food and diet suggestions that can help lower your cholesterol.
Go for foods with soluble fibers, such as legumes and oats. Soluble fibers dissolve in water and break down as they move through the digestive tract, while insoluble fibers remain intact. As they move through the digestive tract, soluble fibers bind cholesterol and together they’re removed from the body, which helps lower your cholesterol. Kidney beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, oatmeal and barley are all hearty sources of soluble fiber.
Whole grains contain insoluble fiber, but still have been shown to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. It’s generally better to opt for whole grain foods (like brown rice) over refined, or bleached grains (like white rice). The benefits of whole grains go beyond cholesterol — they also lower blood pressure, help digestion, and make you feel full for longer. Other examples of whole grain include rice bran, oat bran, and wheat germ.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Fruits like apples, citrus, pears, bananas, prunes, and strawberries also have soluble fibers, which can help lower your cholesterol. As an added bonus, many fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants which prevents LDLs from forming plaque in your arteries. Vegetables like brussel sprouts (lots of antioxidants), broccoli and carrots (both have soluble fiber) are also great!
Use vegetable oils instead of butter, lard, and shortening. Butters and margarines are high in saturated fats, which can raise your LDL cholesterol levels. Instead, try using vegetable oils with unsaturated fats, like canola, sunflower, safflower, or olive oil. For example, you can use olive oil to saute or roast vegetables, but note that olive oil isn’t great for frying. That’s because of the smoke point of the oil, which is when it becomes overheated and starts to smoke and burn. At this point, the oil begins to break down and can release chemicals that can harm the body. Not to mention, it’ll give your food a burnt flavor.
Choose fish over meat. There are several benefits to eating fish. It’s low in saturated fats and provides a healthy, delicious alternative to fatty meats. Plus, fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower your risk for heart disease. Experts recommend 8 ounces, about 2 servings, of fish a week. Fish like salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, and tuna are high in omega-3s.
Other foods that may lower cholesterol include nuts, avocado, whey protein, soy, flax seed, or foods with added sterols and stanols. Plant sterols and stanols have a similar structure to cholesterol. They can block your body from absorbing cholesterol, and thus lower LDL cholesterol. Foods like margarine, orange juice, and cheese may be fortified with sterols and stanols. There are also sterol and stanol supplements, but be sure to consult with your doctor if you’re considering supplements.
Limit high-fat animal foods such as meat, liver, and full-fat dairy. These foods have cholesterol and also tend to be high in saturated fats, which you want to avoid. If you must have meat, go for lean cuts and white meats. Even better if you’re preparing the meat yourself, as you can trim away the skin and any excess fat.
If you want to avoid meat but still crave that savory, meaty flavor, seasoning your food with dried spices and smoky sauces can bring about the rich, umami taste that you get from meat and seafood.
Avoid foods high in trans fats, as these can increase your LDL cholesterol while decreasing your HDL cholesterol. The overall effect is an increased risk for heart disease. Foods high in trans fats, also labelled as partially or fully hydrogenated vegetable oil, include margarines or store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes, so try to avoid these when you can or replace them with healthier, home-made substitutes.
Remember, the key to lowering cholesterol is to avoid trans and saturated fats, and eat a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. Balance your diet by incorporating different types of healthy food, as each brings its own nutrients and benefits to the table. In addition to lowering cholesterol, a healthy diet can lower blood pressure, lower your risk of heart disease, boost your digestive health, and help you manage weight.
Alpha can help test for and treat high cholesterol. We check your cholesterol levels through a blood test at one of our partner labs (or a lab or your choice), then recommend treatment or medication based on the results. Your Alpha Provider will prescribe medication that is specifically suited to your needs, and delivered free right to your door. Get started today!