Part of keeping your heart healthy means keeping your cholesterol levels in check or lowering those numbers if they’ve been creeping up. Exercise can help make this happen, and so can a healthy diet rich in these foods.
Ideally, you want the artery-clogging “LDL” cholesterol to be low (less than 130 mg/dL) and the clog-reducing “HDL” to be high (above 60 mg/dL). You want to keep triglycerides (a measure of certain type of fat in the blood) low for a healthy heart.
Cholesterol comes from animal-sourced foods (meat, dairy and eggs, for example). While many cholesterol-containing foods are good for you, experts recommend that you keep the daily amount of cholesterol you eat to about 300 milligrams per day. Foods high in saturated fat and trans fats also negatively affect cholesterol levels, so avoid those.
This is the one you probably know about. The soluble fiber in whole grain oats helps lower LDL and total cholesterol. Try topping plain oatmeal with a little dried fruit, a sprinkle of nuts and a hint of maple syrup or honey for some sweetness.
The omega-3 fats in salmon and other fatty fish such as tuna and sardines help lower triglycerides and increase HDL. Aim for two servings of fish a week.
3) Olive Oil
The monounsaturated fats and antioxidants in olives and olive oil help to lower LDL (they don’t really affect HDL levels). Use olive oil for sauteing, marinades and salad dressings. Heads up: oil has 120 calories per tablespoon so watch those portions.
According to David Grotto’s book 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life, women who eat 50 grams of ground flaxseed a day for four weeks lowered their LDL by 18%. Try adding these omega-3-rich and fiber-filled seeds to salads, smoothies, oatmeal and even baked goods.
5) Plant Sterols
Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds naturally contain compounds called sterols that block the absorption of cholesterol and help keep LDL low. Along with being in fruits and veggies, you can get more potent doses of these sterols from certain brands of yogurt and yogurt drinks, cereals, granola bars and spreads such as Smart Balance, Promise Activ and Benecol (they all add extra sterols). The downside is that you’ll need a pretty hefty amount (about 2 grams a day) to reap sterol’s cholesterol benefits.
6) Oat Bran
Another way to take advantage of the soluble fiber in oats is to bake with oat bran (available at health food stores). Add it to cookies, breads and these multigrain muffins.
Eating 1.5 ounces a day (about 30 almonds) as part of a diet low in saturated fat can help reduce the risk of heart disease and help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Almonds are also high in vitamin E, too — an antioxidant that boosts heart health.
8 ) Soy
Soy products such as edamame, tofu and soymilk are plant-based proteins, so they’re naturally cholesterol free. Use these foods to replace animal proteins (like swapping soy milk for cow’s milk) — it can help reduce your cholesterol levels.
There’s research that supports the theory that a few cocktails can actually improve your HDL levels, but don’t hit the booze too hard — too much can raise triglyceride levels. Keep it to a maximum of one drink a day for women and two for the guys.
10) Citrus Fruit
Fruits such as oranges and grapefruit are not only good sources of soluble fiber, but research from the USDA finds that a compound found in orange oil can help to lower LDL. A 2006 study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that eating a red grapefruit a day resulted in lower LDL and improved triglyceride levels. (Note: Grapefruit juice may interfere with some medications so check with your doctor or pharmacist.)