Having high cholesterol increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and myocardial infarction (heart attacks). Making positive lifestyle changes, including weight loss and routine exercise, can help lower your cholesterol and improve your overall health.
Diet also plays a key role. You can influence your “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels by eating whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. You can do the same by eating less red meat, sugar, and overly processed foods.
To set you off in the right direction, here are 9 heart-healthy foods you should add to your diet whether you have high cholesterol or not:
Eating a diet rich in whole grains reduces cholesterol levels by absorbing fats in your bloodstream. Oats contain a soluble fiber called beta-glucan (also found in baker’s yeast, barley, and certain mushrooms) which binds to fat and carries it out of the body in stools.
A cup and a half of cooked oats deliver no less than 5 grams of soluble fiber. A daily intake of 5 to 10 grams is associated with no less than a five percent reduction in “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
Walnuts are rich in “healthy” monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in fish. A diet rich in walnuts can help reduce cholesterol levels as well as the vascular inflammation associated with atherosclerosis and hypertension (high blood pressure).
The protein in soybeans also appears to have a beneficial impact on high cholesterol levels. Eating two servings of tofu, soy milk, or soybeans per day could reduce cholesterol levels by as much as five percent.
In addition, soybeans contain other components, such as isoflavones, lecithins, saponins, and fiber, that can improve your cardiovascular health. Isoflavones, in particular, appear to lower blood pressure, while saponins inhibit the absorption of cholesterol into cells.
Dry beans, such as kidney beans, navy beans, black beans, and lentils, are high in soluble fiber as well as plant-based proteins and phytonutrients. Eating beans can help reduce cholesterol, in part because it displaces other types of protein high in saturated fat (such as red meat).
A 2014 review of studies reported that eating a 3/4-cup serving of cooked dried beans every day reduced cholesterol levels by no less than 5 percent after six weeks.
Olive oil, an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, is well known for its ability to reduce cholesterol and mitigate arterial inflammation. Olive oil and other unsaturated oils with similar antioxidative properties (such as canola oil and flaxseed oil) should be used in place of saturated or trans fats.
Orange juice is best known for being an excellent source of vitamin C but also contain phytosterols (plant sterols) that positively influence cholesterol levels. Phytosterols are similar in structure to animal cholesterol but are not absorbed in the bloodstream in the same way. In fact, they inhibit the absorption of dietary cholesterol and help lower the concentration of LDL cholesterol in the blood.
Almonds deliver many of the same benefits to your heart as walnuts but with nearly twice the protein. One ounce of almond delivers as much as 20 grams of fat per one-ounce serving, 85 percent of which are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, eating 1.5 ounces of almonds per day increased HDL levels by 10 to 15 percent in people of normal weight (but had little effect on those who were overweight).
Avocado is another excellent source of monounsaturated fats, phytosterols, and polyphenols, all of which translate to improved cholesterol levels. By replacing the saturated fats in your diet with avocado and avocado oil, cholesterol levels can drop by as much as 15 percent in people on a moderate-fat diet.
A 2015 study from Penn State University reported that overweight people who ate one avocado a day had significantly lower LDL levels after five weeks compared to those on the same diet without avocado.
Salmon or Tuna
Fatty ocean fish such as salmon and tuna are some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. As a group, omega-3 fatty acids are known to significantly reduce the risk of death by cardiac arrhythmia or coronary heart disease.
Omega-3 also inhibits the production of very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) in the liver. This is the type of cholesterol that carries triglycerides to tissues, translating to a greater risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Herring, trout, and sardines are also high in omega-3 fatty acids.