What Is Cholesterol?
First off, it is worthy to highlight on cholesterol, as it generally has a poor stigma that circles around it. Unlike popular belief, the body needs cholesterol. The waxy substance is found in the body’s cells and is required to produce vital hormones along with vitamin D and bile. Additionally, the term “cholesterol” can be further divided into “bad” and “good” cholesterol – “bad” cholesterol, known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), contributes to plaque build-up on the artery walls while “good” cholesterol, known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL), helps eliminate the “bad” cholesterol from the body. Healthy cholesterol levels include LDL cholesterol lower than 100 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL) and HDL cholesterol greater than 60 mg/dL, with total cholesterol (essentially the combination of HDL and LDL) not surpassing 200 mg/dL. The body functions optimally when cholesterol types are maintained within recommended amounts. However, balancing cholesterol is not as simple as discouraging cholesterol from dietary sources. Luckily, though, these 10 foods may lower cholesterol!
10 Foods That Lower Cholesterol
Foods rich in fiber are shown to reduce cholesterol, specifically soluble fiber. This type of fiber can be thought of as a sponge. When soluble fiber is ingested, it absorbs with water and forms a gel-like substance, ultimately having the ability to bind and excrete cholesterol from the body. Dietary fiber recommendations indicate at least 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men each day.
Oats are notoriously known for their fiber content, as one cup of cooked oats supplies four grams of fiber, specifically two grams each of soluble and insoluble fibers. Shake up the common morning grain with these overnight oatmeal recipes.
Also packed with protein, beans of all types offer significant amounts of soluble fiber. Reaching recommended fiber intake will be nothing short of flavorful with this turkey and beef chipotle chili!
An apple a day may keep cholesterol levels at bay! Apples are rich sources of soluble fiber. But do not skimp out of the peel, as they offer insoluble fiber shown to support digestive health.
Strawberries not only supply soluble fiber, but offer those notorious, powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants have shown to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, a disease in which plaque builds up inside vessel walls. The plaque is largely comprised of cholesterol and fatty substances and if too much is present, a heart attack or stroke may result.
Unlike saturated and trans fats that have shown to increase heart disease risk, including “healthy” fats can actually reduce cholesterol levels or be cardio-protective.
5. Fatty Fish
Those notorious omega-3 fatty acids show great worth when it comes to heart health, as they have been shown to increase HDL cholesterol levels while reducing triglycerides (or fat in the blood). Mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, and halibut are suggested to offer the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Walnuts are filled with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a fat shown to convert to omega-3 fatty acids within the body. Consuming walnuts may reduce both total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Additional encouraged nuts include almonds, pecans, and pistachios. Since all nuts are rich in calories, it is important to stick to a serving size (an ounce or small handful of nuts).
7. Vegetable Oils
Vegetables oils supply those “good” unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Oils rich in MUFAs and PUFAs are suggested to improve cholesterol levels and include olive, canola, and sunflower oils.
Avocadoes are a unique fruit, as they offer healthful fat rather than being saturated in carbohydrate. Providing healthful MUFAs, avocadoes have been shown to improve LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels.
Additional Food Products
9. Whey Protein
One of the two milk proteins, the other being casein, may offer more than muscle stimulation and synthesis! In fact, whey supplements have been shown to lower both LDL and total cholesterol levels.
10. Plant Sterol or Stanol-Containing Foods
Stanols and sterols are plant substances shown to block the absorption of cholesterol, particularly shown to reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 15 percent! Foods commonly fortified with plant stanols and sterols include orange juice, yogurt, and margarine – just be cautious of trans fats and hydrogenated oils!
How to Lower Cholesterol
Lowering cholesterol levels essentially translates to improved heart health. But doing so is not as simple as cutting out cholesterol-containing egg yolks like once believed. Lowering total or “bad” cholesterol can be achieved through a healthful diet and foods (as indicated above) but increasing “good” cholesterol is shown to be a little trickier. However, partaking in regular physical activity, losing excess weight, and smoking cessation have all been shown to increase HDL cholesterol levels. Additionally, the American Heart Association recommends limiting both saturated and trans fat levels to less than seven and one percent of total daily calories, respectively, for improving overall cholesterol levels and reducing heart disease risk.