Improve Heart Health with Cholesterol-lowering Foods

Improve Heart Health With Cholesterol-Lowering Foods

Heart disease, the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, is often associated with high cholesterol levels. If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medication to help reduce your levels. However, you may also be able to lower your cholesterol naturally by making dietary changes and becoming more physically active.

What is cholesterol?

Although many people automatically associate cholesterol with health problems, this waxy substance in your blood is actually indispensable; without it, your body couldn’t continue to build healthy cells. It only becomes a problem if cholesterol levels – particularly levels of low-density lipoproteins, or LDL cholesterol for short – become too high and accumulate in your blood vessels, narrowing them and restricting blood flow. This condition, called atherosclerosis, can put you at risk for heart attack and stroke. By contrast, beneficial HDL cholesterol – high-density lipoproteins – actually picks up excess cholesterol and shuttles it back to your liver.

Although genetics may play a role in how your body produces and handles cholesterol, lifestyle factors, such as lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, and smoking can all contribute to a skyrocketing cholesterol count.

And this is actually good news: these are all things that you can do something about.

According to Mayo Clinic, foods high in saturated animal fat – such as red meat and full-fat dairy — can raise your cholesterol. Baked goods, which often contain trans fats, are another common culprit when it comes to ramping up unhealthy LDL cholesterol . But, just as there are foods that raise cholesterol, there are foods that lower it. The trio of foods below can become your allies in the battle against unhealthy cholesterol.

Oatmeal

This familiar breakfast offering may not seem particularly exciting or glamorous. But don’t let its homely image fool you: scientists say that when it comes to fighting high cholesterol, oatmeal is a virtual hero. And its secret weapon is its store of beta-glucans, a type of fiber found in oats.

In a review published in “Vascular Health Risk Management,” researchers concluded that beta-glucans not only significantly lowered levels of triglycerides – or fats – in the blood, they also reduced LDL while boosting heart-healthy HDL. A half-cup of oatmeal also provides .26 milligrams of niacin, or vitamin B-3 – a potent high cholesterol-fighter in its own right.

Bonus: the researchers also credited oat beta-glucans with reducing appetite, which could help control the excess calorie intake that contributes to high triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

If you find the taste bland, you can jazz your oatmeal up with healthy additions. Sprinkle it with raisins, mix it with sliced bananas, drizzle it with a little honey, or spice it up with cinnamon. Your heart will thank you for it.

Avocados

With their rich, buttery taste and creamy consistency, avocados would not seem, at first glance, to be a heart-healthy superfood. But when it comes to improving health and lowering cholesterol, these delicious fruits are MVPs. Avocados are rich in beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids, the “good” fat also found in olives and nuts. They are also very high in soluble fiber, which suppresses the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.  Experts say you should ingest at least 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber a day to decrease your total and LDL cholesterol; with a whopping 7 grams of fiber per 3.5-oz serving, avocados fill the bill.

And there is clinical support for avocado’s health-promoting benefits.  Mayo Clinic reports that overweight people who added one avocado per day to their diets significantly lowered their LDL cholesterol levels.  In other studies, scientists found that these unique fruits can lower LDL by as much as 22 percent, while raising HDL up to 11 percent.

Add luscious avocados to salads and sandwiches, or eat them out of hand as a snack. For a potent punch of disease-fighting antioxidants and micronutrients, pair avocados with tomatoes.  These two superfoods can actually enhance each other’s health-giving properties.

Almonds

Crunchy, nutty-flavored and satisfying, almonds are not only tasty but good for you. Like avocados, they contain healthy monounsaturated fats, particularly oleic acid, which can lower LDL levels while raising HDL.  They are also high in dietary fiber.

In a British study, participants who ate 50 grams – about a handful – of almonds a day experienced improved flow-mediated dilation, making for healthier blood vessels and reducing risk of heart disease.

Because almonds are high in calories, with a handful containing a hefty 575, it is best to eat them in modest amounts. However, you shouldn’t automatically assume they are a “fattening” food.  In one study, volunteers who added almonds to their daily diets — without making any conscious attempt to cut calories in other areas — not only didn’t gain weight but voluntarily reduced their intake of carbohydrates.

Bonus: Almonds have been shown to boost levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that cuts appetite while boosting mood.

You can use almonds to top off yogurt, add crunch to salads and enhance fish and chicken recipes.  To maximize health benefits, you should avoid smoked, sweetened or highly salted almonds.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carol Sarao