According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics last year more than 71 million Americans were affected by high blood cholesterol. You don’t have to think of cholesterol with a skull and bones, avoid-at-all-costs mentality. Our bodies do use cholesterol to build our cells. However, when you have too much cholesterol it begins to build up, developing fatty deposits in your blood vessels. This then limits your blood flow: obstructed flow to the heart means a heart attack, and decreased blood flow to the brain causes a stroke.
Unfortunately it’s quite easy to eat our way into a myriad of health problems. High cholesterol usually has a direct link to our lifestyle (on some occasions it’s inherited). If you have found yourself sitting in the doctor’s office with the blood result tests indicating high cholesterol, they offer you the ease of just popping back a statin pill on a daily basis. However, you can successfully lower your cholesterol on your own with some lifestyle changes. Just as we have the capacity to eat our way to high cholesterol, we can eat our way out of it.
If you have found yourself with high cholesterol, here are some key goals for your lifestyle change in order to lower cholesterol naturally:
- Eat foods that lower the LDL (low-density lipoproteins that grab cholesterol and can build up if you have too much) cholesterol
- Eat foods that boost HDL (high-density lipoproteins that can carry extra cholesterol to your liver to be broken down)
- Exercise regularly. Even a 30 minute brisk walk every day would make a difference.
- Maintain a healthy weight. This again goes back to re-think about your diet... you are what you eat.
- Quit smoking. I don't think this needs any explanation.
As a quick overview, you want to avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats (mostly animal fat sources and packaged, fast foods). They are the ones that tend to raise LDL. Mono and poly-unsaturated fat such as olive oil, canola oil, nuts, and fish are better fats to choose.
Another key nutrient is fiber. Soluble fiber (oats, lentils, nuts, and certain fruits and vegetables) helps to reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Just keep in mind that if you need to make a drastic increase in fiber, do it slowly and drink plenty of water!
Here is a list of some foods that lower cholesterol to start you off:
Oats are a great form of the soluble fiber that was mentioned above. They also contain a substance called beta-glucan. It absorbs LDL cholesterol, and then your body excretes it.
Start incorporating them as a breakfast option, and use them to make your own granola bars or energy bites. Your flavors of oatmeal can be very diversified, using all kinds of fruits (including dried), nuts, spices, and honey for topping.
How much to eat: A half cup of dry oats per day will provide about 4 grams of fiber.
Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids help lower LDL. The other bonus is that if you’re eating fish for a meal, it replaces the beef or other high-in-saturated-fat meats you may have chosen.
Following fish have some of the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Trout / Lake Trout
- Tuna / Albacore Tuna
It is best to bake or grill the fish rather than deep frying it. This would avoid adding unhealthy fats which are full of cholesterol.
Fish Oil and omega-3 supplements can also be taken, however eating the fish is best as it provides additional nutrients like protein.
How much to eat: It is highly recommended to eat at least two servings of fish in a week (The American Heart Association).
3. Nuts - Walnuts, Almonds
Nuts have many heart-healthy benefits for us, but one of them is lowering LDL. They contain high amounts polyunsaturated fatty acids.
A study was done (published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition), in which a group of people were given 1.5 ounces of whole walnuts 6 days a week for 1 month. The affect:
- There total cholesterol lowered by 5.4%
- And LDL cholesterol lowered by 9.3%
How much to eat: Keep in mind that nuts are calorie dense food, so don’t go overboard. Proper portions are very important. About 1.5 ounces of mixed nuts per day is ideal.
Now Go Nuts!
There are so many types of beans that you will never get bored. All of the options give you plenty of ways to play around with their different flavors, textures, and uses.
Beans are a great source of soluble fiber which is the key to lowering cholesterol. They are also high in protein.
How much to eat: 1/2 cup to 1 cup of beans per day
The Journal of Nutrition published a study in 2010 showing that including Soy products such as soy milk, tofu, and soy beans on a daily basis can help lower LDL by as much as 8 to 10 percent.
How much to eat: 25 grams of soy protein per day - as recommended by the FDA.
6. Fruits and Vegetables
No one needs to be told how important it is to eat your fruits and vegetables, but here’s another reason. Many of them contain soluble fiber, especially in their skins.
Great options to include are sweet potatoes, eggplant, okra, broccoli, apples, prunes, grapes, and strawberries.
How much to eat: In general, 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day is recommended.
To get a more precise recommendation according to your age, gender, and physical activity, checkout this calculator by the CDC:
7. Plant Sterol and Stanol
Sterols and Stanols are naturally occurring components of certain plants that mimic LDL cholesterol to your body. You can find many foods now fortified with plant Sterols and Stanols. These help to block our body’s absorption of cholesterol.
A detailed explanation is available at:
How much to eat: 2 grams of plant sterols a day is needed for results. This equals about two 8-ounce servings of plant sterol-fortified orange juice.