There are two main types of cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein or HDL is also called "good" cholesterol. High levels of HDL are beneficial, lowering the risk of stroke and heart disease. The other type of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein or LDL, is the "bad" cholesterol. It causes atherosclerosis and can lead to many conditions, including peripheral artery disease, heart attack, and stroke.
When we talk about foods that help lower cholesterol, we are really talking about lowering LDL cholesterol. Luckily, there are plenty of deliciously healthful options.
Oats are a good choice for lowering cholesterol. One study showed that eating oatmeal for just four weeks could have a profound effect on both serum cholesterol (the amount of cholesterol in the blood) and LDL, lowering them by 5 percent and 10 percent respectively.
While the effects may not be as profound as on their own, oats are part of other dishes, too, including many popular breakfast cereals. As a bonus, oats are also high in fiber, something most Americans do not get enough of.
Fatty fishes are an excellent protein choice when looking for foods that help lower cholesterol, but salmon is one of the most impressive. One four-week study showed that eating salmon daily lowered LDL cholesterol by 7 percent and raised HDL cholesterol by 5 percent.
These effects are largely due to the amount of omega-3s in salmon. Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats that have anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats, contain a lot of fiber, and studies show they benefit heart health. One study suggested a diet enriched with avocado could lower LDL by 22 percent and increase HDL by 11 percent in people with high cholesterol.
Monounsaturated fats also decrease inflammation, offering some protective benefits as well.
Olive oil is a great option for lowering cholesterol for a few reasons. It is high in monounsaturated fats, which raise HDL or "good" cholesterol, and one study speculated that it could also help prevent atherosclerosis by acting directly on the arteries.
Substituting olive oil for other fats, like butter, can also decrease the number of saturated fats you consume, leading to lower LDL.
Beans are rich in soluble fiber and help you feel fuller for longer after a meal, which could help people maintain a healthy weight. Black beans, in particular, help lower cholesterol when added to your diet. One study of men with high cholesterol showed that over 21 days, a bean-supplemented diet resulted in a 19 percent decrease in serum cholesterol and a 24 percent drop in LDL.
Blueberries are packed with antioxidants, specifically anthocyanins, a flavonoid that gives them their color. One study showed that anthocyanin supplements increased HDL by 13.7 percent and lowered LDL by 13.6 percent over 12 weeks.
A study on blueberries specifically showed that they lowered the accumulation of cholesterol in the liver and aorta of guinea pigs.
Tree nuts, like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and pecans, are high in fiber and polyunsaturated fats. They are a great plant source for omega-3 fatty acids, and many studies show that they can effectively lower cholesterol.
However, one review indicates that they are more effective for people with a low body mass index.
Soy was once believed to significantly reduce cholesterol, but more recent studies show it only has mild to moderate effects.
Incorporating soy into your diet is still an effective way to lower cholesterol, though. It is high in protein, making it an excellent substitute for red meats full of saturated fats.
Flaxseed contains fiber, protein, and omega-3 fats as well as lignan, which has been shown to lower serum cholesterol levels. To get the best results, use ground flaxseed in drinks, as opposed to baking with it. One study determined that flax drinks were much more effective at lowering cholesterol than flax bread. The former decreased levels by around 15 percent, the latter by only nine.
Barley is full of beta-glucan, soluble fiber, also present in oats, that can help lower cholesterol. Many studies look at the effects of barley on cholesterol, and the results are promising.
The FDA allows barley to be advertised as a cholesterol-lowering food, but it's best to read the label and choose a product high in beta-glucan.
Tomatoes are a staple in the Mediterranean diet, an eating style widely recommended for heart health. They are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and potassium, and one study showed a diet rich in tomatoes lowered the bad cholesterol and raised the good.
Like blueberries, cherries are also packed with anthocyanin, which studies show not only lowers LDL cholesterol but also raises HDL cholesterol, although this effects may be more pronounced in people with high cholesterol to begin with. One study showed that the healthy participants did not see an improvement in LDL, but the fruit did help those who were overweight or had obesity.
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