Cholesterol is probably one of the most controversial and misunderstood components of overall health, and there are many simple ways to lower cholesterol that you may not be aware of. You may also have many questions about which foods are best for lower cholesterol numbers. For example, do we need any dietary cholesterol at all? Should we be concerned about high cholesterol or just certain types of cholesterol? What does cholesterol even do in the human body? Here’s some basic information as well as practical advice you can incorporate today in order to lower your cholesterol levels naturally.
First of all, what is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a necessary part of the human body’s daily processes. Cholesterol refers to a waxy substance that can be formed by our body that our bodies are designed to produce, although dietary cholesterol can be consumed in our diet from animal sources (such as chicken, eggs, fish, meat, etc.) or processed foods that contain cholesterol. Unlike other types of fat, cholesterol can’t be burned off or exercised away. It tends to “stick around” which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what type of cholesterol your body makes more of.
Types of Cholesterol and What Each One Means
The Center for Disease Control states that over 73.5 million adults have high LDL cholesterol. Of the two types of cholesterol (LDL and HDL), LDL is the detrimental type. LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. Don’t let those words confuse you; the term lipoprotein can be defined as fat attached to protein. Lipoproteins are like water-soluble bubbles that the body forms to transport cholesterol to various tissues. LDL cholesterol is the type of cholesterol that is linked to heart disease and often associated with the intake of too much dietary cholesterol. HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein, and HDL is what is often referred to as good cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is the type of cholesterol that can actually help lower LDL cholesterol in the body and is even used to produce sex hormones in the body.
How Diet Plays a Role in Cholesterol
Our body is designed to produce its own necessary levels of cholesterol that we need to function and thrive meaning it’s not necessary to worry about getting enough dietary cholesterol. Animal sources of food and processed foods are the only sources of dietary cholesterol; plant foods have no cholesterol by nature. However, too much animal protein and processed food intake have been associated with high cholesterol levels, so it’s smart to educate yourself about what sources of animal-based foods you should eat and which ones you should avoid. It’s even more important to focus on your overall diet so you can include plenty of heart-healthy superfoods that naturally combat high cholesterol and support overall health.
Superfoods that Fight High Cholesterol
These foods are packed with antioxidants and cholesterol-lowering properties. Some of them also contain healthy fats that can actually help your body produce more HDL cholesterol and less LDL cholesterol.
Rolled oats and steel cut oats are two of the most heart-healthy grains you can eat if you’re looking for high-quality carbohydrates that won’t spike your blood sugar levels. Oats have consistently been linked to lowering LDL cholesterol levels in the body thanks to their beta-glucan fibers which help draw cholesterol out of the bloodstream and excrete it for healthy artery function.
Prepare your oats warm with some berries and walnuts, or feel free to enjoy them as overnight oats by mixing dry oats with chia seeds, flax seeds, berries, and some almond milk. Let overnight oats sit in the fridge overnight, and in the morning you have a chilled, filling breakfast all ready to go!
Blueberries help fight free radicals in the body and support arterial function. They can help clear the blood of fatty tissues and also help support the entire heart. Include 1/2 cup of blueberries anywhere in your day, and feel free to mix them with other berries you might enjoy such as blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries.
3. Pastured Eggs
Eggs can be a great source of healthy fats, but it’s important to choose high-quality eggs whenever you can. All eggs offer HDL dietary cholesterol that can help lower LDL levels, are a complete source of protein, and can be an incredibly nutritious food. Just keep in mind that pastured eggs offer the benefit of coming from hens who are allowed to feed off natural pastures instead of processed feed. Hens (and other animals) who feed off pasture are often healthier than those given processed feed. Hens who are pastured also produce eggs with a brighter, golden-yellow yolk indicating that the egg is higher in nutrients like choline and omega-3 fats.
Individuals with heart conditions should check with their doctor or medical provider before consuming any sources of dietary cholesterol, including eggs. Eggs make a great breakfast, snack, or part of a vegetarian dinner. They can be prepared various ways from hard-boiled to soft-boiled, scrambled, or even baked into muffin cups. These options are also healthier than eggs fried with high amounts of butter or oil.
4. Spinach and Kale
Leafy greens like kale and spinach offer high amounts of antioxidants such as lutein that improve heart health and may contribute to better cholesterol levels. Leafy greens are also good sources of fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamin E that the body needs. Spinach and kale can be used in any meal such as an omelet, a smoothie, as a bed for salads, stirred into soups, or they can be braised and steamed for a healthy side at dinner. Season your greens with herbs and spices instead of high amounts of oil or high-fat sauces for a heart-healthy approach.
5. Lean Fish
Fish can be an excellent source of omega-3 fats to help lower LDL and improve HDL levels in the body, but it’s important to choose lean fish whenever possible or those with high-quality omega-3 fats like salmon. It’s also important to consider sourcing wild fish whenever possible since farmed fish are often contaminated and high in environmental pollutants. Look for lean, white fish and wild Alaskan salmon. Halibut, tilapia, skipjack tuna, mahi mahi, cod, and haddock are all examples of lean white fish. Albacore tuna is also a good source but higher in mercury than skipjack tuna.
Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats which are a type of fat that improves HDL levels and lowers LDL levels in the body. Consume 1/4 an avocado to 1/3 avocado once every few days in order to reap the benefits of this fiber-rich fatty fruit. Avocado can be used in place of mayo on sandwiches, can be used to make a homemade dressing, can be added to salads and smoothies, and makes a nice creamy base for tuna salad in place of mayo.
Lentils, beans, and peas offer high amounts of slow-digesting fibers that improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels in the body. Legumes are also free of dietary fat and contain natural sources of iron, B vitamins, potassium, and magnesium. Make a hearty lentil soup, use beans in your salads, or try swapping split peas or chickpeas in for various soups instead of meat once and awhile. This is a great way to not only improve your heart health but also your budget too!
8. Raw Cacao, Dark Chocolate and Cocoa
Raw cacao, a high-quality dark chocolate, and plain cocoa powder are excellent sources of both fiber and antioxidants. Raw cacao or dark chocolate with at least 90 percent cacao levels even offers a nice dose of monounsaturated fats that lower LDL cholesterol and improve HDL cholesterol levels when consumed in small amounts each day (about an ounce). Cocoa powder is low in fat but still have in fiber and antioxidants that may improve cholesterol levels. It makes a great addition to smoothies, can be used in baked goods in place of (or in addition to) flour, and can even be stirred into yogurt and oatmeal!
9. Almonds and Walnuts
Though nuts aren’t required for a healthy heart, they can make for a great snack option in place of chips and processed sweets. Most nuts offer high amounts of beneficial fats, but almonds and walnuts contain special benefits that make them especially great for cholesterol levels. Almonds are high in fiber, protein, and monounsaturated fats, and they’re overall lower in fat per serving than most other types of nuts. Walnuts are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. Six walnuts or 21 almonds (one ounce) is the perfect serving size of each nut, and they can be used in oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, or eaten as a heart-healthy snack. Do your best to consume raw and unsalted nuts when possible to avoid high amounts of sodium or added oils used in roasted nuts.
More Tips to Fight High Cholesterol
Diet is important, but it’s also vital to manage daily stress, get at least 7-8 hours sleep each night, and live an overall healthy lifestyle in order to lower your cholesterol. Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol are also important. Remember that all fruits and vegetables are a part of a heart-healthy routine, so incorporate as many of them as you can for better cholesterol levels and to decrease your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other conditions that affect your heart health.
When it comes to your meals, focus on adding in more greens, fruits, and vegetables into each one, and give special consideration to incorporating the nine superfoods above to improve your cholesterol levels even further. It’s also smart to avoid high-fat meats (especially red meat), dark meat chicken and turkey, and high amounts of butter and processed oils (like soy and vegetable oil).
For more ideas on how to lower cholesterol, see these five meal plans for some tasty ideas!