Top 10 Foods to Lower Cholesterol
The Benefits of a Better Diet
If you have unhealthy cholesterol levels (or want to prevent them), one of the first things you should examine is your diet. Are you eating foods that help reduce cholesterol? Or avoiding the ones that cause bad cholesterol levels to creep higher? If not, we've got 10 cholesterol-lowering foods you should grab next time you're at the grocery store. Bonus: Lowering your bad (LDL) cholesterol can make your RealAge 3.3 years younger if you're a man, 0.6 years younger if you're a woman!
Almonds are pretty hardworking nuts when it comes to lowering your cholesterol. First, they're rich in unsaturated fats that help raise healthy HDL cholesterol while lowering unhealthy LDL. Second, these fats also help make LDL cholesterol less likely to oxidize. Which is a fabulous thing, because when LDL oxidizes, it's more likely to gunk up your arteries and cut blood flow to the heart. Snack away. But do keep an eye on portion size. Almonds are high in calories, and all you need are a couple of ounces a day to reap benefits.
Fortified Orange Juice
OJ manufacturers are doing everything they can to make their juice more appealing, including fortifying it with plant-derived cholesterol-busting compounds known as phytosterols. A review of 84 scientific studies revealed that getting 2 g of phytosterols a day (the amount in a few 8-oz glasses of fortified OJ) may help lower LDL levels by more than 8%. Check with your doctor first about whether citrus will interact with any of your medications. If it does, look for sterol-fortified margarine, milk, soymilk, cheese or breads instead.
Heart-Healthy Olive Oil
This oil is a nutritional superstar -- rich in antioxidants and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that help lower bad cholesterol levels and raise good ones. In fact, in a study of people with high cholesterol, blood samples showed less potential for harmful clotting just two hours after the study subjects ate a meal with olive oil. That's because olive oil is rich in phenolics, plant substances that makes blood less likely to clot. All you need is about 2 tablespoons a day for benefit. Use it in place of other fats.
There's nothing wrong with a platter of crudités or a salad if you want to improve your diet, but steaming may boost the cholesterol-lowering capabilities of some produce, including asparagus. Other veggies that get better after a short bout in the steam: beets, okra, carrots, eggplant, green beans and cauliflower. Researchers think steaming these veggies may help them do a better job of binding bile acids, which means your liver needs to use up more LDL cholesterol (to make bile). That leaves less LDL in your bloodstream.
Your mama was right. Starting the day with a bowl of warm, toasty oatmeal is a smart move. Of all the whole grains, oats are the best source of soluble fiber -- the kind that forms a gel to prevent cholesterol from being absorbed into your bloodstream. Shoot for 5-10 g of soluble fiber a day. If you have 1 ¼ cups of cooked oatmeal for breakfast, you'll start your day with 5 g. Top your oatmeal with a chopped apple for an extra 3 g, and you're set.
Powerful Pinto Beans
Next time you make chili, add pinto beans to the pot. They're packed with soluble fiber to help drive down cholesterol. And in a study, people who ate a half-cup of pinto beans a day lowered their total cholesterol by 8% in just 12 weeks. Ole! (Tip: If you use canned beans, rinse them to wash away excess sodium.)
Blueberries Any Way
You've heard by now that blueberries are a superfood. What's so great about them? For one thing, they help keep your arteries clear by lowering artery-clogging LDL in your blood. The end result: Cholesterol gets swept out of your system much more easily. Enjoy blueberries fresh, frozen or freeze-dried. They still have the same benefits.
Tomatoes and Sauces
Include lycopene-rich tomato products in your diet every day for a few weeks, and you may knock your bad LDL cholesterol levels down by as much as 10%, according to one study. Researchers think the lycopene in tomatoes inhibits LDL production while at the same time helping break down this artery-clogging fat. You'll need to eat at least 25 mg of lycopene a day for cholesterol benefits. That's about a half-cup of spaghetti sauce or one cup of tomato juice. Bring on the marinara!
Try to keep a few avocados on hand. Why? They're chock-full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that help drive down bad cholesterol and triglycerides while boosting healthy HDL cholesterol. Even better, we love the fruit's (yep, it's a fruit) mild flavor and creamy texture. Mash avocado into guacamole, add slices to a sandwich, chop it up in a salad, or -- for a tasty snack -- simply spread a little on whole-grain crackers with a tiny pinch of coarse sea salt.
Dreamy Dark Chocolate
If you're a chocoholic, here's some good news. Study after study confirms that dark chocolate is pretty amazing stuff. It's full of flavonoids, which are antioxidants that help lower cholesterol. It also has oleic acid, the same type of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat found in olive oil. To improve your cholesterol, just have a little nibble -- up to 1 oz of dark chocolate a day. And check the label to make sure your chocolate is at least 70% cocoa. Cocoa is the stuff with all the heart-healthy ingredients.