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Top 10 heart-friendly foods for lowering cholesterol

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Jan 24, 2019

The amount of cholesterol in a day’s time can add up quickly.  But when we pay attention to our food choices, we can amazingly keep cholesterol levels in check.

Most of us would rather treat high cholesterol naturally instead of relying on cholesterol lowering medications, if at all possible.  But depending on various circumstances and your cholesterol level, many physicians will often prescribe medication such as a statin. Statins can be effective in lowering cholesterol but may also cause adverse side effects for some individuals.  First, always listen to your physician and never quit taking your medication without consulting them but do ask questions to thoroughly understand all the options that can be helpful in lowering your cholesterol.

One option is to reduce cholesterol in a more natural way, namely by what you eat.  If you have to go on medication do so.  But also make changes in food choices to make a positive impact on bringing your cholesterol back into the normal range.

Here are 10 cholesterol lowering dietary options to consider.  Cholesterol is only found in foods of animal origin so every single food on this list (except for no.10) is completely cholesterol free:

  1. Oatmeal

Whole grain oatmeal is an inexpensive nourishing food that has many health benefits including lowering cholesterol but also blood pressure, stabilizing blood sugar and provides fiber to fill you up.  Oatmeal contains both soluble and insoluble fiber but the soluble fiber contains a component called beta-glucan particularly good in helping lower LDL cholesterol, the bad kind, by blocking the absorption of it.  Use the old-fashioned rolled oats, quick cooking oats or steel cut oats as they contain the whole grain.  Avoid instant oatmeal as it is not considered a whole grain and many varieties contain unnecessary additives such as sugar and salt.

  1. Nuts and peanuts

These cholesterol-lowering pros contain important substances to battle high cholesterol.  Numerous studies have shown that eating almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and other nuts is good for heart health.  Eating 2 ounces a day (about ¼ cup), can slightly lower LDL by about 5%.  Walnuts are the top nut for providing the all-important omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial for the heart.

Almonds are rich in oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that blocks absorption of LDL cholesterol and almonds also contain the amino acid arginine necessary for making nitric oxide.  Nitric oxide helps relax the arteries so blood pressure is lowered and prevents blood platelets from sticking to blood vessels that could cause blood to clot leading to a heart attack.

Pistachios are rich in monounsaturated fat and antioxidants both which are heart healthy substances.  Together, almonds and pistachios provide fiber and phytosterols which can block absorption of dietary cholesterol.  Since both contain a high amount of fat which means more calories, a handful a day is all you need.

  1. Apples and oranges

These common fruits found year round contain a cholesterol lowering ingredient called pectin.  Pectin, a soluble fiber, partially dissolves in water to form a gelatinous mass which catches cholesterol. This trapped cholesterol is prevented from being absorbed and returning back to the liver and instead is carried out of the body helping lower LDL cholesterol.  Apples and oranges also contain a class of antioxidants called polyphenols that can increase HDL cholesterol, the good kind, by helping to counteract atherosclerosis, the buildup of cholesterol and other fatty substances on artery walls.   You’ll get more of the cholesterol-lowering benefits from eating a whole apple (with the skin) or orange as opposed to drinking their juice.

  1. Garlic and garlic extract

A recent meta-analysis study showed that garlic appears to be clinically significant in reducing total blood cholesterol along with slightly improving HDL cholesterol.  Garlic has a remarkable ability to inhibit cholesterol synthesis and suppress LDL oxidation.  It also has shown other cardiovascular attributes of reducing blood pressure and platelet aggregation.  Garlic is generally safe and tolerable to use for most people but may cause a garlic taste or breath with slight mild gastrointestinal side effects.  Use fresh garlic in cooking and consult with your physician on using garlic extract.

  1. Blond psyllium

This herb is found in seed husks and the laxative Metamucil.  It is primarily meant to be used as a laxative but also claims to reduce the risk of heart disease by treating high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Those with mild to moderate high cholesterol appears to benefit the most with reduced cholesterol levels and is most effective when taken with food at mealtimes.  Using blond psyllium (Metamucil) may also make it possible to reduce the dosage of cholesterol lowering medication.  Blond psyllium contains soluble fiber and works by trapping bile acids within in the intestine excreting them causing the liver to take more LDL cholesterol out of the bloodstream.

  1. Flaxseed

The humble flaxseed can be a powerhouse in combatting high cholesterol. The health-promoting properties or flaxseed is its rich omega-3 fatty acid content and its high concentration of lignin and soluble fiber.  Research has shown flaxseed appears to reduce total cholesterol and the bad cholesterol or LDL.  It does not appear however to have much effect on increasing HDL, the good cholesterol.  Flaxseed can be purchased whole or ground. The best one to use is ground flaxseed as the components for lowering cholesterol will be more readily available to be absorbed than whole flaxseed. Get creative using flaxseed by sprinkling into yogurt, a smoothie, mixed into meat dishes or baked in breads or muffins.

  1. Green tea

Commonly used as a beverage this product comes from the Camellia sinensis plant and the extract can be made from the leaves. Various epidemiological, clinical and experimental studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between green tea consumption and cardiovascular health by its effectiveness in treating high cholesterol.  The main polyphenol involved in green tea’s favorable effect on lipid levels is catechins.  Catechins inhibit key enzymes involved in lipid synthesis and reduce intestinal lipid absorption thus lowering blood cholesterol levels.  Brew a cup of green tea today and enjoy the advantageous health results it can have.

  1. Beans and lentils

These fiber-filled legumes are packed with soluble fiber, our friend in helping to reduce LDL cholesterol.  Beans and lentils are fermented in the colon hindering cholesterol production and absorption.  They also contain an array of phytochemicals preventing plaque buildup causing atherosclerosis.  Low in fat, they are a healthy alternative to animal protein which contains the not-so-healthy saturated fat and can be used in a variety of foods from soups to adding to rice or within a burrito.

  1. Barley and other whole grains

Like oats and oat bran, barley and other whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, whole-wheat bread and popcorn, can help lower the risk of heart disease, mainly thanks to their soluble fiber they deliver. These grains are sources of complex carbohydrates naturally high in fiber leaving you feel full and satisfied – making it easier to maintain a healthy body weight.

  1. Fatty fish

Make it a habit to eat fatty fish two times each week – salmon, tuna, herring mackerel, halibut, sardines, and lake trout. Doing so can help improve “good” HDL cholesterol by replacing red meat, which has LDL-boosting saturated fats, and by delivering LDL-lowering omega-3 fats.  Omega-3 fats reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and also protect the heart by helping prevent the onset of abnormal heart rhythms.  In addition, HDL cholesterol helps sweep cholesterol off your artery walls, preventing dangerous plaque from forming. Remember, broiling or baking fish is a healthier option than deep-frying.

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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