Lowering your cholesterol through diet is not as complicated as one may think! The basic principles of nutrition will get you pretty far when it comes to eating for heart health, and with a little bit of planning, you are well on your way to managing your health for the long-haul.
While high cholesterol levels can be genetic. Many may find their high cholesterol is due to lifestyle choices including lack of physical exercise, poor weight management, or unhealthy eating.
The good news is that because high cholesterol is often caused by poor dietary choices, changing your diet can be a very effective approach to managing your condition and improving your overall heart health. Luckily a generally healthy diet high in nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is fairly sufficient in managing cholesterol levels.
Here's how you can reduce cholesterol levels through dieting:
1. Avoid Artificial Trans Fats At All Cost:
Artificial trans fats are produced by hydrogenating or adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats. Trans fats make a cheap alternative to natural saturated fats and have been widely used by restaurants and food manufacturers.
Trans fat is considered the worst type of fat you can eat. Unlike other dietary fats, trans fat(also called trans-fatty acids) raises your bad cholesterol and also lowers your good cholesterol.
A diet laden with trans fat increases your risk of heart disease, the leading killer of adults. The more trans fat you eat, the greater your risk of heart and blood vessel disease.
Trans fat is so unhealthy that the Food and Drug Administration has recently prohibited food manufacturers from adding the major source of artificial trans fat to foods and beverages.
An easy way to cut back on trans fats is to limit your overall intake of fried foods and heavily processed foods altogether.
2. Eat Foods Rich in Soluble Fiber:
Research suggests that soluble fibers may reduce cholesterol levels, but how this is accomplished is still widely debated.
It is thought that fiber binds to cholesterol in the gut, preventing its absorption into the bloodstream. Where other evidence points to high fiber diets just naturally being lower in saturated fat and cholesterol in the first place
Regardless, high fiber diets may offer some serious cholesterol-lowering benefits. Foods that are naturally high in soluble fiber include:
- Whole Grains
3. Eat Lots of Fruits and Vegetables:
Eating fruits and vegetables is an easy way to lower LDL cholesterol levels.Studies show that adults who consume at least four servings of fruits and vegetables each day have roughly 6% lower LDL cholesterol levels than people who eat fewer than two servings per day.
Fruits and vegetables also contain high numbers of antioxidants, which prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and forming plaques in your arteries.
Especially fruits such as apple, berries, grapes, citrus fruits and Pectin-rich vegetables such as okra, eggplants, carrots and potatoes
4. Cook with Herbs and Spices:
Many herbs and spices are loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory activity, which your heart simply loves. In particular, garlic, ginger, and turmeric are all proven heart-friendly culinary herbs and spices. And fiber-rich fenugreek seeds—used in Indian curries, baked in Egyptian bread, and enjoyed as a drink in northern Africa—can also lower blood sugar as well as cholesterol.
Human studies have shown that garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger are especially effective at lowering cholesterol when eaten regularly.
5. Eat Fewer Added Sugars:
It’s not just saturated and trans fats that can raise cholesterol levels. Eating too many added sugars can do the same thing. There may also be a correlation between sugar intake and heart health, especially when decreased saturated fat is replaced with sugar intake.
Studies suggest that too much sugar might help raise total cholesterol, decrease HDL "good" cholesterol, and increase LDL "bad" cholesterol. With fructose primarily in the form of added table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup having the highest impact. It is estimated that the adults who consumed 25% of their calories from drinks made with high-fructose corn syrup experienced a 17% increase in LDL
But finding added sugar in foods can feel pretty difficult - especially since it is not required to be listed on the nutrition facts label. Moreover, there are over 50 different names for added sugar as an ingredient.
Common foods high in added sugar include:
- Sweetened Drinks and Teas
- Sports Drinks
- Granola Bars
- Boxed Cereals
- Prepared Sauces
- Bread and Baked Goods
- Flavored Yogurt
- Flavored Milk
To help cut back on your intake of added sugar, be sure to check the ingredients label of packaged foods. They are listed by weight and anything that ends in -syrup or -"ose"(as in fructose) is also typically a form of sugar.
You can also avoid packaged foods and aim to eat more whole foods, and items made from scratch where you can control all of the ingredients at home.
6. Eat More Soy:
Research has found that soy protein and isoflavones have powerful cholesterol-lowering effects and can reduce your risk of heart disease. It has low levels of saturated fat, plenty of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and high levels of polyunsaturated fats. Research has shown that consuming 25 grams of soy protein a day can lower LDL by 5% to 6%.
7. Choose meats with fewer saturated fats like fish or chicken:
Many red meats are high in saturated fats, which can raise bad LDL cholesterol levels
Fish are low in saturated fats and many also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit your heart health and can boost your good HDL cholesterol levels. Here are some examples of the kinds of fish you can eat on a weekly or monthly basis.
Oily fish like Atlantic- or Pacific-caught salmon, Atlantic mackerel, or tilapia can be eaten two times per week. Shellfish like shrimp and crab and cod can also be eaten that often.
Lake herring (that good old Minnesota staple), halibut, or canned light tuna can be eaten once a week.
Trout (a beloved Minnesota and Wisconsin lake fish), grouper, or tuna steaks or fillets can be eaten once per month.
Foods that are bad for your cholesterol levels include foods that are high in saturated and/or trans fats:
- Fatty cuts of red meat: This includes marbled steaks, pork, veal, and lamb. Red meat is higher in saturated fat when compared to white meat, and it is linked to abnormal cholesterol levels. The scientific community is debating this right now, but the American Heart Association still recommends limiting the intake of red meat.
- Processed meats: Examples include deli ham, salami, pastrami, bologna, sausage, bacon, and similar products. These foods have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, in part due to the large amounts of salt and other preservatives that they often contain.
- Fried foods: These are typically fried in highly processed oils that often contain trans fats. This can worsen cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
- Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils: This includes margarine and shortening which are often used as an ingredient in highly processed, packaged, baked goods. These oils are a type of trans fat, and they are damaging to heart health and cholesterol levels.
- Sugar: This includes sweetened beverages, pastries, desserts, and processed foods made with high fructose corn syrup or other added sugars. Diets high in sugar increase total cholesterol as well as triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels.
- Alcohol: All types of alcohol can raise triglyceride levels. Drinking too much alcohol too often can worsen triglyceride levels and potentially harm heart health.
It is essential to note that altering your blood cholesterol through diet requires a total dietary approach, not just changing one or two foods you consume. There is no single food that will help to lower your cholesterol and it's important to focus on the quality of your overall diet.
This is where getting a dietician can come in handy! If you are not able to create effective plans, keep track of the foods you eat, take a free consultation with our clinical experts who can help assess your overall health condition & give a simple diet plan that you can follow to lower your cholesterol levels.
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