You may know that a bad diet can cause your cholesterol levels to climb. But keeping your numbers in check isn’t just about avoiding burgers and fries. In addition to limiting the bad stuff, it’s also important to load up on good-for-you, cholesterol-fighting foods. Try adding these items to your shopping cart:
Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids are seriously heart-friendly. They help lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides, slow the rate at which plaque builds up in your arteries, and can bring down your blood pressure. Some of the top sources of omega-3s are fatty fish, particularly salmon, but also other varieties like tuna, trout, and herring.
You can make that veggie stir-fry even healthier by cooking it in plant-based oils, many of which are rich in omega-3s. Some of the best: flaxseed, walnut, canola, and soybean oil. Just be sure to mind your portion sizes, since even a small drizzle can pack a splash of calories.
Whole-Grain Breads and Cereals
Studies show that dietary fiber can lower LDL cholesterol, but most Americans aren’t eating nearly enough. To get more, skip refined grains with “enriched” flours in favor of labels that say “whole grains.” Breakfast is the perfect time to get a fiber boost. Try switching to oatmeal, whole wheat toast, or bran flakes cereal.
All fruits have some fiber. A banana, an apple, an orange, and a grapefruit each have about 3 grams, though you’ll have to eat the whole thing (orange juice, for example, has just half a gram of fiber per cup). Grab a handful of blueberries (which have 4 grams per cup) or raspberries (which have 8 grams per cup), though, and you’ll hit a fiber mother lode.
These creamy fruits are a terrific way to get more healthy unsaturated fats into your diet. Research suggests that eating an avocado a day can help lower LDL cholesterol in overweight and obese people. Though guacamole is delicious, it’s easy to eat half a bag of chips along with it. Try dipping carrots in it, or have sliced avocados on whole-grain sandwiches or in salads.
Whether you choose pinto, kidney, or black varieties, beans are one of the best sources of fiber. For a one-two boost to heart health, replace meat in your diet with beans. “You’ll add a tremendous amount of fiber, and lower your intake of cholesterol and saturated fat,” says Joan Salge Blake, clinical associate professor at Boston University’s Sargent College of Health. Try them in place of ground beef in chili, or swap out your usual hamburger for a black bean patty.
Once dismissed for their high fat content, nuts are now hailed for their powerhouse nutritional benefits, including lots of protein, fiber, and healthy unsaturated fats. Try snacking on a handful of walnuts, almonds, or cashews, or sprinkling them over yogurt, cereal, and salads.
It’s true, even dessert can be heart-healthy. The cocoa bean contains antioxidants called flavonoids that fight cholesterol. Generally, the higher the cocoa content, the more antioxidants you’re getting, so reach for dark over milk chocolate, and don’t eat too much.
All vegetables contain cholesterol-lowering fiber, but spinach is a particularly great source, with 6 grams per cup. If your greens tend to wilt in the fridge before you can finish them, remember: The frozen variety has just as much fiber and nutrients as fresh.
- Health.gov: “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010."
- Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- National Fiber Council: “Fiber Food Chart."
- Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, professor of nutrition science and policy, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University.
- American Heart Association.
- Joan Salge Blake, MS, RDN, LDN, clinical associate professor, Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Boston University.
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: “Protein Foods."