Oh that dreaded topic from your blood panel workup – the total cholesterol figure, and the associated HDL/LDL breakdowns.  Certainly many of us wished that our total cholesterol figure was lower, without having to resort to taking popular statin medications known as Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor … or equivalents.

Surprisingly, changing what you eat can actually lower your cholesterol levels and improve the various kinds of lipids (fats) floating throughout your bloodstream.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats are all part of a heart-healthy diet.  But some foods are especially good at naturally lowering cholesterol levels.

The reason is this effect is because some cholesterol-lowering foods provide a significant soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation.  Others provide polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL, or bad cholesterol.  And those with plant sterols and stanols keep the body from absorbing cholesterol.

» The 12 cholesterol-lowering foods

Here is a list of 12 specific foods which have an effect in naturally lowering cholesterol.

  1. Oats  If you’re looking to lower your cholesterol, the key may be simply changing your morning meal. Switching up your breakfast to contain two servings of oats can lower LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by 5.3% in only six (6) weeks.  The key to this cholesterol buster is beta-glucan, a substance in oats that absorbs LDL, which your body then excretes.
  2. Red wine  Scientists are giving us yet another reason to drink to our health. It turns out that high-fiber Tempranillo red grapes, used to make red wine like Rioja, may actually have a significant effect on cholesterol levels. A study conducted by the department of metabolism and nutrition at Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain found that when individuals consumed the same grape supplement found in red wine, their LDL levels decreased by 9%. In addition, those who had high cholesterol going into the study saw a 12% drop in LDL.
  3. Salmon/Fatty fishes  Omega-3 fats are one of the natural health wonders of the world and have been shown to ward off heart disease, dementia, and many other diseases. Now these fatty acids can add yet another health benefit to their repertoire: lowering cholesterol. According to research from Loma Linda University, replacing saturated fats with omega-3s like those found in salmon, sardines, and herring can raise good cholesterol as much as 4%.
  4. Nuts  If you’re looking to lower cholesterol levels, a research study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who noshed on 1.5 ounces of whole walnuts 6 days a week for 1 month lowered their total cholesterol by 5.4% and LDL cholesterol by 9.3%. Almonds and cashews are other good options.
  5. Tea • While tea has become well known for its cancer-fighting antioxidants, it is also a great defense against LDL cholesterol levels. According to research conducted with the USDA, black tea has been shown to reduce blood lipids by up to 10% in only 3 weeks. These findings were concluded in a larger study of how tea may also help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
  6. Beans  Beans are good for your heart. Researchers at Arizona State University Polytechnic found that adding ½ cup of beans to soup lowers total cholesterol, including LDL, by up to 8%. The key to this heart-healthy food is its abundance of fiber, which has been shown to slow the rate and amount of absorption of cholesterol in certain foods. Black, kidney, or pinto beans all provide about one-third of your daily fiber needs.
  7. Chocolate • Yum!  This powerful antioxidant helps build HDL cholesterol levels. In a 2007 study published in AJCN, participants who were given cocoa powder had a 24% increase in HDL levels over 12 weeks, compared with a 5% increase in the control group. Remember to choose the dark or bittersweet kind. Compared to milk chocolate, it has more than 3 times as many antioxidants, which prevent blood platelets from sticking together and may even keep arteries unclogged.
  8. Margarine • Switching to a margarine with plant sterols, such as Promise activ or Benecol, could help lower cholesterol. Plant sterols are compounds that reduce cholesterol absorption; a study published in AJCN found that women who had a higher plant sterol–based diet were able to lower total cholesterol by 3.5%.  Sterols and stanols extracted from plants gum up the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol from food. Companies are adding them to foods ranging from margarine and granola bars to orange juice and chocolate. Getting 2 grams of plant sterols or stanols a day can lower LDL cholesterol by about 10%.
  9. Garlic • Aside from adding zing to almost any dish, garlic has been found to lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots, reduce blood pressure, and protect against infections. Now research finds that it helps stop artery-clogging plaque at its earliest stage by keeping cholesterol particles from sticking to artery walls. Try for two to four fresh cloves a day.
  10. Olive oil • This common cooking ingredient can help your health. Olive oil is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which lower LDL cholesterol—and have the welcome side effect of trimming belly fat. Use it to make your own salad dressings, marinate chicken and fish, or roast vegetables.  Read about the 8 Healthy Benefits of Olive Oil.
  11. Spinach • This popular green contains lots of lutein, the sunshine-yellow pigment found in dark green leafy vegetables and egg yolks. Lutein already has a “golden” reputation for guarding against age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. Now research suggests that just ½ cup of a lutein-rich food daily also guards against heart attacks by helping artery walls “shrug off” cholesterol invaders that cause clogging.
  12. Avocado • Avocados are a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that may actually help raise HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL. And, more than any other fruit, this delectable food packs cholesterol-smashing beta-sitosterol, a beneficial plant-based fat that reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food. Since avocados are a bit high in calories and fat (300 calories and 30 g fat per avocado), use them in moderation. (We suggest these 8 unique and insanely tasty avocado recipes.)

» Foods to AVOID

As you consider eating more of the foods that can help dial down cholesterol, keep in mind that avoiding certain foods can also improve your results. To keep cholesterol levels where you want them to be, limit intake of:

  • Saturated fats • The saturated fats found in red meat, milk and other dairy foods, and coconut and palm oils directly boost LDL. So one way to lower your LDL is to cut back on saturated fat. Try substituting extra-lean ground beef for regular; low-fat or skim milk for whole milk; olive oil or a vegetable-oil margarine for butter; baked fish or chicken for fried.
  • Trans fats • Trans fats are a by-product of the chemical reaction that turns liquid vegetable oil into solid margarine or shortening and that prevents liquid vegetable oils from turning rancid. Trans fats boost LDL as much as saturated fats do. They also lower protective HDL, cause inflammation, and increase the tendency for blood clots to form inside blood vessels.

» References