10 foods that lower cholesterol—and some that raise it
It’s easy to eat your way to an alarmingly high cholesterol level. At the same time, changing what you eat can lower your cholesterol and improve the kinds of fats floating through your bloodstream.
Improving your cholesterol through diet requires a two-pronged strategy:
- Add foods that lower LDL, the “bad” cholesterol.
- Cut back on foods that boost LDL.
In with the good
Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which drags cholesterol out of the body before it gets into circulation. Some give you polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL. And some contain plant sterols and stanols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.
Here are 10 types of foods that work in one or more of these ways to lower cholesterol:
- Oats such as oatmeal or cold, oat-based cereal like Cheerios
- Barley and other whole grains
- Eggplant and okra
- Vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower, and safflower
- Apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits
- Foods fortified with sterols and stanols, which include foods ranging from margarine and granola bars to orange juice and chocolate
- Soy, such as tofu or soy milk
- Fatty fish
Out with the bad
To improve your cholesterol, the main things to cut from your diet are saturated and trans fats.
Saturated fats. The saturated fats found in red meat, milk and other dairy foods, and coconut and palm oils directly boost LDL.
Trans fats. Trans fats boost LDL as much as saturated fats do. They also lower protective HDL cholesterol, rev up inflammation, and increase the tendency for blood clots to form inside blood vessels. The Institute of Medicine recommends getting no more than two grams of trans fats a day; less is even better. Look on the label of packaged foods such as cookies and crackers to make sure they don’t have trans fats. Fried foods in restaurants can also contain them.
Also make sure that you keep your weight under control, and get regular exercise. Excess weight boosts LDL, while inactivity depresses HDL. Losing weight if needed and exercising more reverse these trends.
Putting it all together
When it comes to investing money, experts recommend creating a portfolio of diverse investments instead of putting all your eggs in one basket. The same holds true for eating your way to lower cholesterol. Adding several foods that fight high cholesterol in different ways should work better than focusing on one or two foods.
That approach has been tested by Dr. David Jenkins of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and his colleagues. In a series of studies, their largely vegetarian “dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods” substantially lowered LDL, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
The portfolio included:
- foods rich in soluble fiber, such as:
- okra and eggplant
- margarine enriched with plant sterols
- soy protein
- whole almonds.
These were added to a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains instead of highly refined ones, and protein mostly from plants.
Shifting to a cholesterol-lowering diet takes more work than popping a daily cholesterol-lowering drug, such as a statin. It means expanding the variety of foods you put in your shopping cart and getting used to new textures and flavors. But it’s a natural way to lower cholesterol, and it avoids the risk of muscle problems and other side effects that plague some people who take statins.
Just as important, a diet that is heavy in fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts is good for the body in ways beyond lowering cholesterol. It keeps blood pressure in check. It helps arteries stay flexible and responsive. It’s good for bones, digestive health, vision, and even mental health. That’s a portfolio worth protecting.
ISSUE #1 OF 6 IN AN E-MAIL SERIES by
Harvard Medical School http://www.health.harvard.edu