Millions of Americans have high cholesterol levels. By adding these 10 natural foods to your diet, you can actually lower your cholesterol level.
Cholesterol: The Facts
We've all heard about problems associated with high cholesterol. Chances are good that you know someone who is on a special diet or on medication for cholesterol problems. You've probably also been told that red meat and fatty foods cause high cholesterol and heart attacks.
One in three people in America dies from heart disease and stroke. By lowering your cholesterol, you will decrease your risk for these killers and live a happier and healthier life along the way.
Three Numbers to Know
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by your liver. Everyone has it, but many of us have too much because, in addition to the cholesterol our bodies naturally produce, we eat foods that provide additional sources of cholesterol.
When your doctor checks your cholesterol, he's really taking a look at three different things:
--LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoproteins, are the "bad" cholesterol. LDLs cling to the inside walls of your blood vessels and can cause blockage. High levels of this type of cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, you should keep this level below 100mg/dL.
--HDL cholesterol. Think of HDLs, or high-density lipoproteins, as the "vacuum cleaner" cholesterol. They cling to LDLs and clean them out of your arteries, sweeping them into your liver so that they can be filtered out of your body. In general, HDLs are actually a "good" cholesterol. Your HDL number should be more than 60mg/dL for optimal health.
--Total cholesterol. Your total cholesterol number is your LDL and HDL levels combined. What many people don't understand is that, because this number includes both the bad and good types of cholesterol, it's not as significant as your individual LDL and HDL numbers. Doctors agree that it is best to keep this level under 200mg/dL.
There are no outward symptoms of high cholesterol, but the risks of having it are significant. Your doctor can determine all three of these numbers by conducting a simple blood test.
Ten Natural Foods that Lower Your Cholesterol
If you do have high LDL levels, there is plenty you can do to get back on track. In fact, there are foods provided by nature that you can eat that will help you regain your health--and keep it.
Tuna. Fresh or canned tuna is loaded with Omega 3 fatty acids. Multiple studies show that those who eat plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids have lower LDL levels, higher HDL levels and lower levels of triglycerides, which are other fatty substances floating around your bloodstream.
Ground Flax Seeds or Flax Oil. Like tuna, flax also contains high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids. It's added as a supplement to many cereals, granola bars and breads, but be aware that the seeds themselves are not easily digestible. By adding ground flax seeds or flax oil to your diet, you'll get the most out of this tiny boost of nutrients. Flax also contains phytonutrients called lignans, which are also good for you. Ground flax seeds contain a healthy dose of fiber, too, although flax oil does not.
Almonds. By substituting two handfuls of almonds for a fatty snack or dessert, or adding them to salads and casseroles instead of higher-calorie alternatives, you'll lower your level of bad cholesterol while keeping your good cholesterol the same.
Oatmeal. The US Food and Drug Administration recognizes oatmeal as one of the key foods in maintaining heart health. Studies show that by eating one bowl of oatmeal a day, you can dramatically lower your LDL, or bad cholesterol, level. Scientists believe the reason for this is because the water-soluble dietary fiber found in oatmeal binds with bile (which contains cholesterol) in your digestive system and carries it out of your body.
Olive Oil. Studies show that, by substituting olive oil for butter, fatty salad dressings (mix it with a little vinegar), or even other cooking oils, you can significantly reduce your LDL level. It may take some effort to adjust your taste buds, but once you make the switch, you'll be much healthier for it.
Orange Juice. Who knew that all that orange juice your mother made you drink as a kid was so helpful? To get the most out of your juice, choose a juice that's fortified with plant sterols. By drinking two 8-oz glasses of sterol-fortified orange juice a day, you can lower your cholesterol by up to 10 percent.
Beans. Beans and legumes are a super source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. By adding beans and legumes of all kinds to your diet, you'll usher cholesterol out of your body and also full on fewer calories. The more content your body, the less you'll crave fatty foods.
Apples. An apple a day really does keep the doctor away, and adding the fiber and nutrients from apples helps to ensure your heart health.
Peas. Peas are a great source of soluble fiber. Add them by the handful to salads, or cook them in soups, stir fry and casseroles to add a little diversity to your diet.
- Strawberries. Who knew something so little and delicious could be so full of great nutrition? Strawberries are a good source of soluble fiber, as well as a source for potent antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals.
What You Don't Eat Is As Important As What You Do Eat
Although managing your cholesterol is not all about depriving yourself of things you love, to truly be at your best you should limit certain foods.
For example, foods containing trans fats, cholesterol and saturated fats should be limited. Included on this list are egg yolks, fatty meats, high-fat dairy products and processed and fried foods. Difficult though it may be, there is more than one benefit to cutting these foods out of your diet. Not only can you replace them with foods that will lower your cholesterol and increase your nutrients, but you'll most likely also reduce your weight. Studies conclusively show that carrying around extra weight also leads you to carry an increased risk for a number of life-threatening illnesses, including heart disease and stroke.
Take It All the Way
If you have high cholesterol, there are other things you can do, too, to eliminate or greatly reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Take an honest look at your lifestyle to see what you can change to live longer and healthier.
Your doctor may prescribe medication. There are a growing number of good options available today. With her guidance, you can find one that's right for you.
Maintain a healthy weight through eating right and exercising. Start off slowly if you need to by simply adding a half-hour walk into your day. Ask your doctor what you can safely do to lose weight.
If you're a smoker, find help to quit. Not only does smoking greatly increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, it also increases your risk for cancer. The American Cancer Society has a number of resources. Visit cancer.org for more information.
By making changes to your lifestyle--some easy and some a little harder--you can help to ensure your life will be as happy and healthy as it can be.
Davidson MH et al. The hypocholesterolemic effects of beta-glucan in oatmeal and oat bran. A dose-controlled study. JAMA 266(8): 1833-1839.
American Heart Association
American Cancer Society