Consuming oatmeal, certain kinds of fish and nuts can help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol.
This article is based on reporting that features expert sources including Jaclyn Albin, MD; Aaron E. Glatt, MD; Don Hensrud, MD; Alex Lewis, RDN; Jacob Meyers, RD; Kate Patton, RD, MEd
Consuming certain foods can help you lower your cholesterol.
When it comes to lowering your LDL cholesterol – the "bad" kind – there's no one food or type of offering that will get your numbers down, says Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chairman of medicine and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, New York.
"It's not like there’s a simple answer," Glatt says. However, eating an array of healthy foods – in combination with exercise and keeping your weight within healthy levels – should be part of a regimen to lower bad cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
"It's about consuming a portfolio of good foods, not only one good food," Glatt says. "There's no 'silver bullet' food that will by itself lower your cholesterol."
Some people who have a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol may need prescription medication regardless of dietary improvements, Glatt notes.
Include exercise in your cholesterol-lowering regimen.
Combining good eating habits with exercise is an important part of a cholesterol-lowering regimen, says Jacob Meyers, a registered dietitian with Texas Health Hospital Alliance in Fort Worth, Texas.
It's important to exercise at least 30 minutes on a daily basis and to maintain a healthy body weight, Meyers says. Consult your primary care physician or other health care provider for guidance on the right weight for you.
Avoid foods high in saturated fat.
Saturated fat is the biggest contributor to elevated low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol, says Scarlett Stussy, a registered dietitian and clinical nutritionist at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth in Fort Worth, Texas.
Research suggests that limiting the amount of saturated fat you consume is associated with lower LDL cholesterol levels. "An easy way to do this is to swap out foods high in saturated fats with offerings high in unsaturated fats," she says. "Shoot for eating less than 7% of your daily calories from saturated fat."
Foods high in saturated fat include:
- Processed meats or those with visible fat.
- Whole milk.
- Stick butter.
Choose foods high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Consuming offerings that have polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats instead of food with saturated fats can help lower LDL cholesterol and may decrease the risk of heart disease, says Alex Lewis, a registered dietitian and content marketing manager with Baze, a personalized supplement and nutrition program. Lewis is based in Boston.
Research suggests that total and LDL cholesterol can decrease by up to 12% when saturated fat is replaced by polyunsaturated fat in the diet, adds Jenna Bell, a registered dietitian with Crop One Holdings, a technology-driven vertical farming outfit that produces fresh produce in a sustainable way. Bell is based in St. Petersburg, Florida. Consuming foods high in monounsaturated fats instead of saturated fats is also helpful for lowering cholesterol.
Foods high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fats include:
- Nuts and seeds.
- Peanut butter.
- Albacore tuna.
- Nut butters.
- Avocado oil.
- Olive oil.
- Safflower oil.
- Sunflower oil.
Also, stay away from trans fats.
In addition to foods high in saturated fat, you should refrain from eating offerings that have trans fats – processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, says Dr. Don Hensrud, editor of “The Mayo Clinic Diet” at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
In addition to raising consumers' LDL cholesterol levels, foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil lower HDL, or "good" cholesterol. In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that partially hydrogenated oils are not "generally recognized as safe." The FDA ordered the phasing out of the use of artificial trans fats from the food supply by Jan. 1, 2020. (Trans fat occurs naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products and is found in low levels in some edible oils, the FDA noted.)
Removing partially hydrogenated oils from processed foods could prevent thousands of heart attacks and deaths each year, the FDA said. Partially hydrogenated oils are used to make some of these commercial products:
- Snack cakes.
While staying away from unhealthy offerings, here are six foods or types of offerings you should eat to lower your cholesterol:
Eat veggies and fruits high in soluble fiber.
Vegetables and fruits that are high in soluble fiber are good for lowering your cholesterol. Soluble fiber absorbs water in the gut and forms a thick gel. "This gel then traps bile acids in the gut – which are made up of cholesterol – and helps you excrete them out instead of reusing them. Your body then has to take more LDL cholesterol out of your bloodstream to make more bile acids," Stussy says.
Vegetables and fruits high in soluble fiber include:
- Brussels sprouts.
- Sweet potatoes.
- Beans and legumes.
Avocados are a particularly good food to include as part of a cholesterol-lowering regimen, says Dr. Jaclyn Albin, an assistant professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.
Not only do avocados contain soluble fiber (as well as insoluble fiber), they're rich in monounsaturated fats, which help lower LDL cholesterol. They're also full of antioxidants – substances that help fight free radicals in the body, which are linked to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
"This winning combination helps you stay full and has proven to help lower LDL and non-HDL cholesterol," Albin says. The fruit is also versatile, she notes. You can consume fresh avocado slices, mashed avocado spread on whole-wheat toast or guacamole.
Substitute brown rice for the white variety.
Brown rice, like barley and other whole grains, contains large amounts of soluble fiber, which prevents absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Eating brown rice instead of the white variety is helpful for lowering your cholesterol, says Dr. Brian Lima, director of heart transplantation surgery at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York.
Brown rice is easy to incorporate into your diet. "Add it to a salad or use it as an alternative to white rice, as a side dish," Lima says.
"Oatmeal is my favorite cholesterol-lowering food because of its versatility," says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic. There are multiple types of oatmeal, including steel-cut, Irish, oat bran, old-fashioned and the kind that cooks in one minute.
A three-quarters cup of dry, uncooked old-fashioned oatmeal contains 3 grams of soluble fiber. "I also love oats because they have zero sodium and sugar added, so you can flavor them so many different ways and never get bored." For example, you can add blueberries or other fruits to cooked oatmeal for sweetness and flavor.
Eat ground flaxseed.
For being small, flaxseeds pack quite a nutritional punch, Patton says. A single tablespoon of ground flax contains 1 gram of soluble fiber.
"They work well in oatmeal, smoothies and yogurt," she says. "Like oat flour and oat bran, you can sub out flour in your favorite quick bread or muffin recipes for ground flaxseed."
To recap, these strategies, types of foods and offerings can help you lower your cholesterol:
- Include exercise in your cholesterol-lowering regimen.
- Avoid foods high in saturated fat.
- Choose foods high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat.
- Stay away from trans fats.
- Eat veggies and fruits high in soluble fiber.
- Consume avocados.
- Substitute brown rice for the white variety.
- Enjoy oatmeal.
- Eat ground flaxseed.
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