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5 foods that can lower your cholesterol naturally

Processed and packaged convenient foods have led to a sky-rocketing cholesterol epidemic. It is a fact that your diet impacts your cholesterol numbers. And your cholesterol is at the top of the doctor's chart because high cholesterol has been linked to increased risk of heart disease and stroke. So if you have high cholesterol, not only do you have to cut back on foods that send your bad cholesterol (LDL) soaring, but you must reach for foods that boost good cholesterol (HDL).

Where cholesterol comes from

There are two sources of cholesterol in our bodies. Your liver and other cells in your body make about 75 percent of blood cholesterol. The other 25 percent comes from the foods you eat, specifically animal products like meats, egg yolks, whole milk, butter, cream, cheese, etc.

The cholesterol in your diet raises the cholesterol level in your blood, but that is not the biggest threat. Saturated fat in your diet raises your LDL levels more than anything else you eat. However, cholesterol and saturated fat are often found in the same foods, so by limiting your intake of foods rich in saturated fat, you’ll also help reduce your intake of cholesterol.

A holistic approach to lowering cholesterol

Nancy Waldeck, chef at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, emphasizes the need to have a holistic approach to your diet and not just try to check off a box by eating a low-cholesterol, low-fat or low-sodium diet.

"Everyone should strive to eat healthy, balanced meals that are rich in fresh vegetables and fruits. The darker the color, the better. It's this overall healthy lifestyle approach that will help your body in many ways — lowering your risk for heart disease, inflammation, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and the list goes on."

Cholesterol-lowering foods

To maintain healthy cholesterol levels, Waldeck recommends incorporating the following foods into your diet:

1) Oatmeal, oat bran and high-fiber foods. Foods high in soluble fiber help reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Soluble fiber is also found in kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes.

2) Fish and omega-3 fatty acids. Eating fatty fish can be heart-healthy because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish each week. Fish should be baked or grilled to avoid adding unhealthy fats.

3) Walnuts, almonds and other nuts. Eating a handful of nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts each day may reduce your risk of heart disease. Avoid salted or sugarcoated nuts. These add unnecessary sodium and calories.

4) Olive oil. Olive oil is packed full of beneficial antioxidants that can lower your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol while leaving your "good" (HDL) cholesterol untouched. The cholesterol-lowering effects of olive oil are even greater if you choose extra-virgin olive oil, which means the oil is less processed and contains more heart-healthy antioxidants.

5) Foods with added plant sterols and stanols. Foods are now available that have been fortified with sterols or stanols, which are substances found in plants that help block the absorption of cholesterol. Margarines, orange juice and yogurt drinks with added plant sterols can help reduce LDL cholesterol by more than 10 percent. The amount of daily plant sterols needed for results is at least 2 grams — which is equivalent to about two 8-ounce servings of plant sterol-fortified orange juice a day.

"If you are eating healthy foods 80 to 90 percent of the time, then it's okay to eat that piece of chocolate cake," says Waldeck. "It's maintaining a balanced approach that will deliver long-term health benefits."

This balanced approach goes beyond diet. It includes living a healthy lifestyle by exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking.

For more ways to make your everyday life healthier, visit Living Better Health & Wellness.

Book an appointment with a Piedmont cardiologist today. 

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