For many of us, trying to keep our blood-cholesterol levels in check is a daily challenge. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, more than 65 million Americans struggle with high blood cholesterol, which puts them at risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.
While many people take medication to lower high cholesterol levels, eating particular foods certainly has a place in the effort. For example, a preliminary study presented at a recent medical conference showed evidence that eating an apple or two a day helps lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and levels of disease markers for artery health.
Experts believe that the apple’s pectin, a soluble fiber that inhibits cholesterol absorption, may account for the fruit’s heart-healthy benefits. So enjoy an apple and some of these other cholesterol-lowering foods.
1. OatmealLike apples, oatmeal also contains soluble fiber, that substance that reduces the absorption of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol into our bloodstream. The evidence for this is so strong that the Food and Drug Administration has given oatmeal “health claim” status for cholesterol management. According to MayoClinic.com, 5 to 10 grams or more a day of soluble fiber cuts total and LDL cholesterol. One-half cup of whole-grain oatmeal contains 4 grams of dietary fiber. For even more fiber, mix in bananas, dried cranberries, or raisins.
2. Pomegranate juice
Pomegranate juice contains a higher level of antioxidants than most fruit juices, and those compounds are believed to be heart healthy, playing a role in the reduction of LDL cholesterol, according to MayoClinic.com. While it’s not certain that drinking pomegranate juice actually lowers cholesterol, it could inhibit its buildup in arteries. Before drinking pomegranate juice regularly, check with your physician. It may interfere with certain medications, including those that lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, the website advises.
Avocados have beta-sitosterol, a natural plant sterol. Plant sterols and stanols are LDL cholesterol-lowering substances contained in the cell membranes of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, seeds, and grains. Like soluble fiber, they work by blocking the absorption of LDL cholesterol into the bloodstream.
Avocados also contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which also reduce levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood. The American Heart Association recommends that 25 to 35 percent of our daily calories come from fats, most of which should be monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, rather than saturated or trans fats. Olive oil is another good source of monounsaturated fat.
4. Spread for your breadFoods like orange juice, yogurt drinks, and buttery spreads are now fortified with plant sterols and stanols, those LDL cholesterol-lowering substances. Like oatmeal, they’ve been granted “health claim” status for managing cholesterol. Foods with added sterols and stanols help cut LDL cholesterol by more than 10 percent, reports MayoClinic.com. For that you need to consume at least 2 grams a day or the equivalent of two 8-ounce glasses of fortified orange juice.
And while these other foods contain them, health experts say getting them from whole foods is best.
5. Fish With Good Fat
Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids found in certain types of fish reduce levels of triglycerides (a blood fat) and slow down the growth of plaque in artery walls, according to the American Heart Association. Omega-3 fatty acids also lower the risk of abnormal heartbeats, which can lead to sudden death.
The AHA recommends eating two servings of fish a week. Fish containing the most omega-3s are: salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna (fresh and canned), herring, sardines, halibut, and lake trout. Canola oil and ground flaxseed also contain omega-3s. For a heart-healthy Salmon with Cilantro Pesto recipe from the AHA,
6. Apricot-almond comboSnacking on dried apricots and raw almonds is a tasty way to stop LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and building up on artery walls, which occurs when LDL reacts to free radicals, according to ivillage.com. Researchers reporting in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry said the phytochemicals in almonds reduce LDL oxidation when they are combined with vitamins E and C, which are plentiful in apricots, says ivillage.com.
In addition to almonds, eating other nuts including walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and peanuts help reduce your risk of heart disease. Eating 1.5 ounces a day — about a handful — offers benefit.