Cholesterol at moderate levels is beneficial to your body. It plays a role in the production of hormones, digestive acids, cell membranes, and vitamin D. Unfortunately, persistently high levels might eventually lead to atherosclerosis, the blocking of the arteries, which increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.
Cholesterol moves around the body in the form of a lipoprotein, either a high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or a low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL is commonly known as the bad cholesterol as it’s this form that will lead to clogged arteries. Luckily, high cholesterol can be effectively lowered through lifestyle changes and a healthier diet. Highlighted below are four foods that help to lower cholesterol.
Oats contain high amounts of soluble fibers. Soluble fibers lower LDL cholesterol levels by binding with water to form a gel-like substance that prevents cholesterol absorption.
Some research suggests that consuming as little as three grams of fiber per day is sufficient to decrease LDL cholesterol levels. However, the American Heart Association recommends that an adult should eat approximately 25 grams per day. You can add oats to your breakfast through a bowl of oatmeal or maybe some oat pancakes.
Oily fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help in lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Although researchers are yet to understand the mechanism behind this reduction, one study showed that omega-3 fatty acids enlarge LDL cholesterol particles. It’s thought that the larger the LDL particles become, the harder it is for them to clog arteries.
Omega-3 fatty acids also contain polyunsaturated fats, which increase levels of HDL cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of oily fish per week. Examples of oily fish are trout, tuna, herring, salmon, and mackerel.
A group study on volunteers concluded that the consumption of cocoa powder lowered LDL cholesterol levels. Another research study in the Journal of American Heart Association showed that consuming dark chocolate, almonds, and cocoa in one serving reduced LDL cholesterol levels.
Dark chocolate is a derivative of the cocoa plant. It contains fiber and antioxidants that prevent the absorption of cholesterol and oxidation of lipoproteins. You should, however, eat dark chocolate in moderation, at most 40g per day. After all, a single 100-gram bar of dark chocolate contains about 600 calories, so overconsumption can easily lead to weight gain.
Soy protein is a good source of dietary fiber and is low in saturated fats. Researchers are yet to discover the exact role soy protein plays in lowering high cholesterol. But one controlled study showed that consuming 25 to 35 grams of soy protein for six weeks reduced LDL cholesterol by 3%.
Although this contribution might seem insignificant, most nutritionists still advise that you replace animal products with soy products as there are many other benefits too. You can substitute full-fat milk with soymilk or opt to eat tofu instead of red meat.
Other Ways to Lower Cholesterol
Managing high cholesterol is attributed mainly to lifestyle habits. You can lower cholesterol by excising regularly, avoiding smoking, and eating a healthy diet. During exercise, enzymes in the body move LDL cholesterol to the liver and it help to lower cholesterol, where it is used in the production of bile and eventually excreted from the body.
You should also try to reduce your intake of foods rich in trans-fats and saturated fats. The American Heart Association recommends that trans-fats and saturated fats make up less than 5% of daily calorific intake. Try to substitute those fats with foods containing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats instead.
You can keep track of your cholesterol levels by going for checkups regularly. Aim for a total cholesterol level of 200mg/dl or less. The US food nutrition guidelines stipulate that LDL cholesterol levels should be below 130mg/dl. HDL cholesterol should be above 60mg/dl.
However, don’t worry if dietary and lifestyle changes are insufficient to control your high cholesterol. There are many different types of medication available that help to lower cholesterol, including statins, fibrates, and bile acid resins. So speak to your doctor about this option if you’re still having trouble getting the condition under control.