Cholesterol is an important fat-like substance used to create hormones (such as vitamin D), build healthy cells, and digest your food. The cholesterol your body uses can come from two different sources: your own body or the food you eat. Dietary cholesterol, meaning the cholesterol from food, is only found in animal-based products (i.e. meat, dairy milk, eggs, etc.). Dietary cholesterol is not essential to your health because your liver makes all of the cholesterol it needs on its own. So, if you are vegan there’s no need to worry!
Traditionally, LDL cholesterol is referred to as “bad” cholesterol and HDL cholesterol is referred to as “good” cholesterol. A total cholesterol level of less than or equal to 200 mg/dL and LDL level of less than or equal to 100 mg/dL is considered optimal. If you consume animal-based foods, it’s a good idea to have no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day.
Sometimes cholesterol levels can become so high they become problematic for your health. Generally a total cholesterol level above 240 mg/dL is considered high. High cholesterol can lead to the development of heart disease. If you have high cholesterol or simply want to prevent it from becoming too high, include the following foods in your menus.
- Apples: Apple pectin is a soluble fiber that helps remove the cholesterol from your body! Apples contain flavanoids which act as powerful anti-oxidants that seem to halt the “bad” cholesterol from accumulating in your bloodstream.
- Avocado: Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats, a type of fat that may help to raise the “good” cholesterol, while lowering the “bad”. In addition, avocados contain more beta-sitosterol (a plant-based fat) than any other fruit. The American Heart Association recommends that you get up to 15% of your daily calories from monounsaturated fats.
- Beans: Beans and vegetables are excellent sources of soluble fiber. Eating a cup of any type of beans a day-particularly kidney, navy, pinto, black, chickpea, or butter beans-can lower your cholesterol by as much as 10% in 6 weeks. According to the FDA and the National Cancer Institute, adults should get 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day. That can easily be done by adding beans to your daily diet.
- Cinnamon: A study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine found that ½ – 1 teaspoon of cinnamon a day can significantly reduce fasting insulin and blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It also reduces LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and total cholesterol levels.
- Garlic: Garlic has been shown to prevent blood clots, reduce blood pressure, and protect against infections. Most recently garlic has received attention for its possible ability to lower cholesterol levels.
- Grapes: Grapes contain flavanoids that help protect the “bad” cholesterol from further damage and reduces clumping of the blood. The LDL lowering effect of grapes comes from a compound, resveratrol, that the grapes produce naturally that normally resist mold. The darker the grape, the better!
- Oats: Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces your LDL cholesterol. Five to 10 grams of soluble fiber a day decreases LDL cholesterol. Eating 1 ½ cups of cooked oatmeal provides 4.5 grams of fiber.
- Salmon: The major health components in salmon include omega-3 fatty-acids and proteins. These components lend positive benefits to the cardiovascular system. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat at least two servings of fish per week, particularly fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, and herring).
- Soy: The top health promoting components in soybeans are flavones and soluble fiber. 25-50 grams of soy per day is recommended to decrease cholesterol by 4 to 8%.
- Walnuts: Walnuts can significantly reduce blood cholesterol because they are rich in polyunsaturated (omega-3) fatty acids. Walnuts also keep blood vessels healthy and elastic-like. Almonds appear to also have the same effects, resulting in improvements within four weeks. A cholesterol-lowering diet with a little less than 1/3 of a cup of walnuts per day can significantly reduce LDL cholesterol.
Aside from eating these foods, there are some other lifestyle changes you can make to manage your cholesterol levels. Adopting a regular exercise regime, not smoking, limiting animal fats, managing stress, and decreasing your alcohol consumption are some ideas. Cholesterol is not something to obsess over, but something to be mindful of.