4 Foods to Lower Cholesterol
The most obvious idea for people suffering from high cholesterol may be simply to cut cholesterol from their diet. But research shows that this is neither possible nor very successful. In fact, according to Harvard Health Publishing, the best way to lower cholesterol is to switch to a low-cholesterol diet. Much like a weight-loss diet, the success of a low-cholesterol diet will depend on how you change your relationship to food instead of simply limiting yourself as soon as lunchtime comes around. In other words, it’s not about merely cutting off cholesterols entirely so that your meals become difficult and boring. Instead, you should privilege certain ingredients and foods you already eat and de-privilege others.
How does it all work?
There is a particle called low-density lipoprotein, or LDL. This lipoprotein carries harmful cholesterol into the bloodstream and is directly linked with atherosclerosis. Naturally, LDL is not all harmful. It is a critical component in hormonal function and cell communication, so you should not seek to cut it out altogether.
Some foods have soluble fibers that bind to the cholesterols in the digestive system and flush them out before the cholesterol reaches the circulatory system. Other foods provide stanols and sterols that block the digestive system from absorbing cholesterol components.
So what can you eat?
1. Oats: Eating oatmeal or oat-based cereals for breakfast has long been seen as an effective measure in lowering cholesterol. A cereal with fruits like strawberries or bananas and low-fat milk may add up to 2.5 grams of the 5 to 10 grams of soluble fibers recommended that you eat per day. Oatmeal can also be a delicious way to start your day and get your metabolism going. Because oatmeal takes time to digest, you’ll feel full for longer, and it might help control your snack cravings during the day.
2. Legumes: Legumes include beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, and almonds. Of the many foods on this list, beans are particularly rich in soluble fibers. Legumes are a versatile and nutritious food that can even provide you with healthy fats and significant quantities of protein. Beans, in particular, are a staple in the cuisines of many cultures, and you’ll find that they will be easily assimilable to various dishes. (Arroz congrí, for example!) Legumes, like oatmeal, are also helpful in reducing cholesterol in that they take a longer time to digest than other foods. This means that you’ll feel fuller for longer, and you will have fewer urges to eat high-cholesterol caloric foods.
Peanuts, almonds, and more “snackable” legumes are also rich in “healthy” fats and nutrients. It has been shown that eating two ounces of nuts each day can lower your LDL.
3. Fruits like apples, strawberries, and citrus fruits: Besides nutrients like Vitamin C and essential minerals like potassium, fruits like apples, strawberries, and citrus are rich in pectin. Pectin is a fiber commonly found in apples, apricots, and oranges. It is a substance that increases gut viscosity (which is, interestingly enough, also why it is used as a gelling agent in foods like jelly and pudding) and reduces the absorption of bile acids whose presence in the bloodstream elevates cholesterol levels.
Besides being incredibly good for you, fruits are also one of the tastiest and freshest snacks. You can incorporate them into your diet as garnishes in your cereal or salads, or you can have them as desserts at the end of your meals. Having said that, they can be sugary, so it’s best to enjoy them in moderation.
4. Fatty fish: Fatty fish like salmon are super-rich in healthy fats like Omega-3s, which are nutrients that contribute to general cellular health. The thing about Omega-3s is that the body can’t make these fats independently, as it can with most other fats. This is why they’re called essential fats. You can usually find them in vegetable oils, nuts, flax seeds, leafy vegetables, and fish. These oils are important for your health because they are integral to cellular function. They are part of cell membranes, regulate blood clotting, and contract and relax artery walls. As a result, the consumption of Omega-3s has been directly linked with cardiovascular health. Omega-3s reduce triglycerides and LDLs in the bloodstream and have a direct impact on the health of your blood.
Another way in which Omega-3s help to lower your cholesterol is by allowing you to vary your diet away from LDL-rich food like fatty red meats. Fatty meats like regular ground beef, processed meats like hot dogs and sausages, and substantial portions of steaks are all LDL-rich and very likely to increase your risk for cardiovascular issues. Instead, if you’d like to keep red meat in your dietary habits, you should choose to eat leaner (95%) ground beef and lean cuts of beef, pork, or lamb.
Overall, the best way to lower your cholesterol is by changing your relationship to food. You should privilege foods like beans and fruits over others like refined grains and fatty red meats, which may be more detrimental to your health in the long run. You do not have to cut out meat from your consumption entirely, but a largely vegetarian diet has been shown to significantly lower LDL, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Being wise about the meats you consume is also highly recommended since certain very popular and tasty meats like bacon or pork have high concentrations of LDL and triglycerides.