High cholesterol is a common condition that occurs when too much of the fatty substance called cholesterol is in the blood. However, not all cholesterol is terrible.
The body needs a certain amount to be present for the production of hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids. However, high blood levels can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
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There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it can build up in the walls of the arteries, leading to a condition called plaque.
Plaque can narrow the arteries and increase the heart attack and stroke risk. On the other hand, HDL is often referred to as “good” cholesterol because it helps to remove LDL from the arteries and carry it back to the liver to be broken down and removed from the body.
There are several ways to lower cholesterol levels, including medication, exercise, and lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and reducing stress. A critical aspect of managing cholesterol is making changes to your diet.
Foods that can help to lower cholesterol
Oat bran, barley, and brown rice
Oat bran, barley, and brown rice can lower “bad” LDL without lowering “good” HDL. Oat bran and barley are good sources of soluble fiber. This type of fiber binds to cholesterol in the gut and removes it from the body. Aim for at least three servings per week.
Eating soy protein significantly decreases LDL levels. Researchers believe that this may be due to the effect of the protein found in soy and other naturally occurring substances known as isoflavones. Soy protein is found in foods such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, and soy milk.
Flaxseeds and almonds
One to three tablespoons of flax meal (10-30gm) taken daily can help reduce both total and LDL levels. Tree nuts such as almonds, which are high in monounsaturated fats and plant sterols, also lower cholesterol levels. Aim for a handful of nuts per day.
Ideally, four servings a week of fish is good for lowering cholesterol. Look for fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. These are all high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties and can help lower heart disease risk. Otherwise, it is recommended that 2-4g of fish oil be taken a day.
Beans and lentils
At least four servings per week (e.g., 100g cooked lentils or chickpeas per serving) should be included in a balanced diet. There are wide varieties of beans, including broad beans, lupins, mung beans, red beans, and lima beans.
Avocado is a good source of monounsaturated fats and also contains plant sterols. In addition, avocado is high in fiber, which can help to lower cholesterol levels. Avocado can be used in place of mayonnaise in sandwiches, added to salads or smoothies, or used as a topping for toast.
Probiotic yogurt improves intestinal flora and, as a consequence, lowers bile acid and increases the removal of toxins and excess cholesterol from the body.
In addition to incorporating these foods into your diet, it’s important to limit foods high in saturated and trans fats, such as fried foods, processed meats, and full-fat dairy products. These types of fats can raise LDL and increase the risk of heart disease.
Be sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly and not smoking. Consult with a healthcare professional for personalized dietary and lifestyle recommendations.