By age 40, 50 percent of American women (and 27 percent of all Americans) have too much “bad” cholesterol in their blood, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Making some healthy, simple changes in your diet can help you keep your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) “bad” cholesterol down.
What’s too high? Read more about knowing your numbers at the end. But first …
Every cell in your body needs cholesterol, and your body makes all that it needs. Yet as is the case with many things in life, you can have too much of a good thing. Certain foods add to the cholesterol that your liver manufactures. This waxy substance can clog up your arteries, damage your heart health, increase your risk of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, and even lead to fertility issues.
Cholesterol is a fat that comes in several forms and travels through your bloodstream in packages called lipoproteins. In addition to LDL, there’s a “good” cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoprotein).
HDL carries cholesterol from other parts of the body back to the liver where it is removed from the body. A third lipoprotein, triglycerides, can also cause trouble if blood levels are too high. Luckily, the diet changes that lower LDL levels can also reduce triglycerides.
Diet, exercise and not smoking are important ways to maintain a healthy cholesterol level, yet genes also play a role. About 1 in 500 people have genes that prevent the liver from removing excess LDL. These people need to pay special attention to diet and exercise. Even with the best lifestyle, chances are they will need medications to control cholesterol.
Whether you have high LDL or not, the following diet tips can help keep your coronary arteries clear, flexible, and free of fatty plaque deposits.
Incorporate more of these cholesterol-lowering foods in your diet
Oats (and barley). High fiber whole grains (unprocessed) are among the best sources of beta-glucan, a soluble fiber which may reduce LDL levels by 5-10 percent.
How much? At least 3 servings of whole grains a day. A serving is ½ cup cooked whole grain, 1-cup whole grain dry cereal, 1 slice whole grain bread.
Berries - High in fiber, they help to reduce LDL cholesterol, and also have antioxidants, which can increase HDL cholesterol and protect against heart damage. Other good fruits to eat are oranges, red grapes, apples, and pomegranates (eat the seeds too). Also vegetables such as dark leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, avocados and red bell peppers are rich in fiber.
How much? Aim for 1 ½-2 cups of fruits per day and 2 ½ -3 cups of vegetables daily. Avoid fruits and vegetables with sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.
Pinto beans (and lentils). Beans and legumes are the best source of fiber for reducing LDL cholesterol and are a great substitute for animal protein. The fiber content could also help people with Diabetes control their blood sugars.
How much? Aim for ½ cup a day. Start with a ½ cup several times per week, and then work up to the higher amount.
Walnuts (and flax seeds). Nuts and seeds have fiber, protein, and high quality monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids for keeping cholesterol in check.
How much? Limit to ¼ cup (1.5oz) a day due to their high calorie content. Also make sure the nuts you eat aren’t salted or coated in sugar.
Extra virgin olive oil (and canola oil). Is a good source of monounsaturated fat, which helps reduce LDL cholesterol, and is also a good source of Vitamin E, an antioxidant.
How much? Limit to two tablespoons a day due to its high calorie content. Use in cooking, salad dressings, or on bread, in place of saturated and trans fats in your diet.
Sardines (and salmon). Fatty fish have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce blood pressure, and risk of developing blood clots.
How much? Two 3.5-ounce servings a week. Bake or grill the fish, and avoid adding unhealthy fats.
Edamame (fresh soy beans). Rich in soluble fiber and protein and high in isoflavones, edamame is a plant compound that lowers LDL cholesterol levels. Try tempeh or tofu as a substitute for animal protein, soy milk as a substitute for cow’s milk, or roasted soy nuts for a crunchy snack.
How much? Aim for 25 grams a day, if you can. That’s ½ cup of soy nuts.
If you don’t know your Cholesterol numbers, ask your doctor for a lipid panel, a simple blood test. You need to fast (no food) for 9-12 hours beforehand. So get it done first thing in the morning.
A good LDL number is less than 130 – better yet, less than 100.
By the age 20, everyone should know their good (HDL), bad (LDL), triglyceride, and total cholesterol numbers. Recheck them every five years if they’re good, and every year if they’re high, according to The National Institutes of Health.