According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. And it’s out modern lives that have led to this staggering statistic.
Americans are less physically active than ever before, and we have more access to fattier — think fast — food than ever before. This combination of a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet can lead to high cholesterol and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The good news, though, is that high cholesterol can be preventable and reversible with proper diet and exercise.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol in and of itself isn’t bad — in fact, our bodies need it for proper functioning. The problems arise when the ratio of good to bad cholesterol is off, and our bodies begin to build plaque inside our arteries.
When we refer to cholesterol, we are actually referring to the conveyance mechanism that moves cholesterol through our blood stream. This mechanism is made of lipoproteins that bond to cholesterol and move it around our bodies.
HDL, the good cholesterol, cleans arteries of excess cholesterol while LDL, the bad cholesterol, can cause plaque buildup. This plaque buildup, called atherosclerosis, reduces blood flow and may cause heart attack or stroke.
Foods That Lower Cholesterol
As much as poor diet can contribute to high cholesterol and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, a proper diet rich in certain cholesterol-lowering foods can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
It’s as easy as switching out unhealthy ingredients in recipes and Incorporating these 10 foods into your diet for good heart health:
1. Oily Fish
While the term “oily fish” may sound counterproductive in reducing plaque in our bloodstreams, fish like salmon are low in saturated fat and high in omega-3s. These fatty acids are actually good for your heart.
Omega-3s help reduce inflammation and lower triglycerides. Adults should have two 3.5 ounce servings per week for optimal benefit.
2. Nuts And Seeds
Walnuts, almonds and flax seeds also contain omega-3 fatty acids. One ounce of nuts or seeds per day will provide many health benefits.
Not only will they help reduce inflammation, but they may help you maintain a healthier weight and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Try to get 1 ounce of nuts or seeds at least five times a week.
3. Oatmeal And High Fiber Foods
Soluble fiber found in oatmeal, beans and prunes helps to reduce the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed into your blood. Just 1.5 cups of oatmeal for breakfast is a great way to get the daily recommended amount of fiber into your diet.
You can also add oatmeal into your baking by making oat flour. Simply grind the oats in a food processor and you have a high fiber flour than can be used in place of wheat flour.
Avocados are a good source of another heart-healthy fatty acid known as MUFAs, or Monounsaturated Fatty Acids, and they help lower levels of LDL — the bad cholesterol. Add some slices of avocado to your salad or try this guacamole recipe.
Just make sure you aren’t eating greasy chips with your dip. Use fresh veggies instead. Stick to half an avocado per day though, because they are calorie dense.
5. Olive Oil
Olive oil has antioxidant properties and is good source of MUFAs. Two tablespoons per day are recommended, and they can be added into your diet via salad dressings or as replacement for butter or margarine.
For a double dose of MUFAs, try this creamy salad dressing made with avocados and olive oil.
Oranges contain pectin, which is a fiber that helps reduce cholesterol. The potassium in oranges may also help lower blood pressure by offsetting salt intake.
If you are going to get your daily dose of orange in juice form, make sure to select high pulp content because pectin is found in the pulp. Aim for one orange a day to get optimal benefits.
The right kinds of alcohol in moderation have been known to increase HDL — the good cholesterol — which helps clean plaque from your arteries. Red wine in particular offers heart-health benefits because it contains the antioxidant, resveratrol.
Limit yourself to one glass a day, though, and choose healthier cocktails when it comes to your alcohol consumption. Making a red wine Sangria with high fiber fruits such as apples and oranges will give you the combined benefit of both alcohol and fiber.
Kale is a heart-healthy super food. It has antioxidants, fiber and omega-3s which are all good for lowering cholesterol. Kale also contains glucoraphanin, which helps keep plaque from building up on your arterial walls.
Making kale chips is a fun way to incorporate this plant into your diet. Not only will you get the benefits of eating kale, but it will keep you from snacking on a less healthy food. Find other recipes that will enable you to work one to two cups into your diet several times a week.
Antioxidants fight a process called oxidation. Oxidation of LDL is what starts the plaque buildup inside arteries. The polyphenol antioxidants in pomegranate are unique because not only do they prevent plaque from forming, but they can also help clear plaque that has already formed.
Pom Wonderful is a company that makes it very convenient to get pomegranate in either fresh fruit or juice form, and eight ounces a day is recommended.
10. Green Tea
Green tea is rich in an antioxidants called catechins — which have been shown in clinical studies to not only lower cholesterol but to help reduce body fat as well. Black tea also has catechins but has more caffeine than green tea.
So try swapping out your morning coffee for a black tea, and sipping on green tea instead of soda in the afternoon. Having several cups a day will reap the most benefit.
Eating foods that fight inflammation, prevent or reduce oxidation, clean your bloodstream and reduce the amount of cholesterol that can build in your arteries will greatly increase your heart health and decrease your chance for heart disease.
Even if you have already have high cholesterol, adding these foods to your diet can reverse the process and get you on the right track. It’s never too late to be good to your heart.