Did you know that the average North American has slightly elevated cholesterol levels, while 1 in 6 Americans is in the dangerously high cholesterol range? Cholesterol is an essential fat, so it is not all bad. There are two types of cholesterol - High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL). LDL is considered the bad type of cholesterol since it contributes to the buildup of fatty plaque in our arteries which can result in atherosclerosis, heart attack or stroke. However, HDL is considered the good kind of cholesterol since it helps maintain the health of the inner walls of blood vessels and keeps them flexible and clear of hard deposits1.
Lifestyle and diet play a very important role in managing the cholesterol levels in our bodies. If you have high LDL cholesterol levels, regular exercise, avoiding smoking and managing a healthy weight can make a big difference. If you can incorporate the following amazing heart-healthy foods into your diet, you can also naturally lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Research suggests that Extra Virgin Olive oil is packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) which have antiatherosclerotic effects and may help decrease LDL cholesterol levels2. Simply incorporating 10 grams of Extra Virgin Olive Oil into your daily diet may help. You can use olive oil to make your own heart-healthy salad dressings, or use it to roast vegetables, chicken, or fish.
Avocados are rich in MUFAs and are a rich source of a beneficial plant-based fat called beta-sitosterol, which helps prevent heart disease and reduces LDL cholesterol levels3. Try adding avocados into your diet by making some tasty guacamole!
Chia is a nutrient rich seed that contains proteins, n-3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), minerals, dietary fibers and antioxidants. Studies performed on humans and rats suggest that Chia seeds can help raise HDL cholesterol levels and lower triglycerides4. A great way to add chia to your diet is to use it as a crunchy topping for a salad or a sandwich.
Flaxseed is a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids, lignans and fiber. It helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and reduces LDL cholesterol levels. A study performed on postmenopausal women showed that administering approximately 30 grams of Flaxseed daily for 3 months to patients with high cholesterol help to lower their total cholesterol levels by 7% and LDL cholesterol by 10%5. A really simple way to add flaxseed to your diet is by adding ground flaxseeds into a milkshake or smoothie.
A number of studies on garlic and its active ingredient Allicin suggest that regular consumption of garlic has significant effects on preventing blood clots and atherosclerosis (hardening or narrowing of the arteries due to plaque)6. It also promotes the reduction of serum cholesterol, and triglycerides, and lowering blood pressure levels. Therefore, simply incorporating 2-3 fresh garlic cloves daily into your diet may help balance cholesterol levels.
Yes, it’s hard to believe, but the key ingredient in this dark chocolate helps reduce high cholesterol levels. Cocoa powder contains flavanols in high concentration which are beneficial for cardiovascular health and have strong antioxidant activity. A study shows that the consumption of 26 grams of cocoa powder along with 12 grams of sugar daily, for 12 weeks, increased HDL cholesterol levels by 23.4% and decreased LDL cholesterol levels by 12.6% in subjects7. A delicious way to add cocoa powder into your diet is to use it as a flavoring for a milkshake, or as a substitute for chocolate when baking.
Reducing your cholesterol levels could be as simple as changing what you eat for breakfast! Oats contain a substance called beta-glucan that absorbs LDL and helps to excrete it from the body. It turns out that 2 servings of oatmeal can lower LDL cholesterol by over 5% in 5 weeks without affecting HDL cholesterol levels8. Here is a super simple oatmeal recipe that you can use as a daily cholesterol buster each morning:
- Add ¾ cups of skim milk into a bowl.
- Mix ½ cup of quick oats into the bowl of milk.
- Microwave the oats and milk for about 2 minutes (adjust time until mixture achieves your desired consistency).
- Add 1 pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon of honey, and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the oatmeal for flavor (adjust amounts to achieve desired sweetness).
- Stir and enjoy!
Green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are rich in lutein, a substance which can help reduce heart attacks by helping to prevent our artery walls from clogging9. Try adding ½ cup of spinach or kale to your daily diet by using it fresh in salads or by cooking it lightly and adding it as a side dish to any meal.
Salmon is high in omega-3 fats, which are known to help lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease, and even promote a healthy brain. A recent study found that eating salmon or other fish high in omega-3 fats (such as sardines and herring), can help raise the good HDL cholesterol up to 4% 10.
Instead of snacking on potato chips or crackers, consider adding heart healthy nuts to your diet instead! A recent study has found that walnuts can reduce LDL cholesterol by over 9% when consuming 1.5 ounces of them for 6 days a week for 1 month 10. Other great heart friendly nuts include almonds and cashews. Just be sure to control your portons, since nuts are also high in calories. Try to limit daily intake to about 1.5 oz, which is roughly the equivalent of a shot glass full of nuts.