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There are several reasons why certain foods are good for your cholesterol and your heart health. Some have direct effects on reducing LDL and/or triglycerides. Others are more filling and, if they’re low in calories, will help with weight loss. Plus, by filling up on these healthier options, you’re not eating other foods that adversely affect your cholesterol and heart health.
Fill Up on Fiber
Higher fiber intake is associated with better cardiovascular health, and some research suggests that a high-fiber diet can have anti-inflammatory and blood-pressure-lowering effects. Furthermore, foods rich in fiber tend to be lower in calories and more satiating, so you don’t have to eat as much to feel full.
Soluble fiber is particularly beneficial for your heart and blood vessels because it dissolves in water, forming a gel that can bind with cholesterol in your digestive system and help remove it with your stool. As a result, eating soluble fiber can slightly reduce LDL and total cholesterol. Soluble fiber also has been shown to slow the absorption of sugar and improve blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and does not have the same direct effect on cholesterol as its soluble counterpart. However, insoluble fiber is beneficial for digestive health, as it helps move stool through the digestive tract.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that men over the age of 31 should consume at least 31 and 28 grams of fiber daily, respectively, while women over the age of 31 should get at least 25 and 23 grams or more each day, respectively.
Fill your fiber requirements with these plant foods (animal foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, do not contain any fiber):
- Beans, peas, and lentils
- Oats and other grains
If you need more fiber than your diet can provide, consider psyllium fiber supplements, which are rich in soluble fiber. Use psyllium supplements under your doctor’s guidance, especially if you have gastrointestinal problems or swallowing difficulties.
Nuts have earned a reputation as another nutritional superstar associated with heart health. Nuts are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), as well as protein and other important nutrients.
Incorporating nuts into your diet, especially in place of unhealthy fat sources, may help improve your cholesterol levels and support your cardiovascular health, some evidence suggests.
Although nuts are rich in MUFAs, which help maintain a healthy cholesterol balance, each gram of fat contains 9 calories, and overindulging in nuts can promote weight gain, so consume nuts in moderation.
Add Avocados to Your Diet
Like nuts, avocados are an excellent source of beneficial MUFAs, and some research suggests they may have positive effects on cholesterol and heart health, especially when used to replace saturated fats.
Keep in mind, however, that one avocado has about 230 calories. So, if you’re watching your caloric intake, you’ll want to be aware of what an avocado can do to your daily calorie total.
Focus on Fatty Fish
Cold-water, fatty fish—such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, herring, sardines, trout, and tuna—are among the richest sources of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These polyunsaturated fats are associated with good cardiovascular health and may help lower triglycerides.
Also known as plant sterol esters and plant stanol esters, phytosterols are natural compounds found in the cell membranes of plants that may help reduce cholesterol absorption in the digestive tract and, consequently, help lower LDL cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.
Small amounts of phytosterols occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes, but these quantities are too low to reduce cholesterol. However, a variety of food products are fortified with phytosterols, including a number of margarines and spreads, juices, chocolate, granola bars, and dairy products.
Find the Goodness in Grapes
For years, moderate consumption of red wine has been touted for its cardiovascular benefits, possibly because red wine contains the antioxidant resveratrol, which may help reduce LDL, lower your risk of blood clots, and prevent blood-vessel damage. Red wine also contains antioxidants known as polyphenols, such as flavonoids, which studies suggest may boost levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol and help maintain healthy blood pressure.
But you don’t have to imbibe to get the goodness of the grape. Resveratrol and polyphenols also are found in red and purple grape juice (especially juice made from Concord grapes), as well as in the skin of grapes, so eating whole red or purple grapes may confer cardiovascular benefits. (The antioxidant content of red and purple grapes is usually higher than that of white or green grapes.)
If you prefer red wine, just remember to drink in moderation: no more than two 5-ounce glasses a day for men and no more than one a day for women.
Add a Little Spice and (Maybe) Lower Your Cholesterol
Turmeric is the Indian spice that gives curry its golden color, and some research indicates that a compound in turmeric—curcumin—may help lower cholesterol and prevent its oxidation, suppressing plaque buildup in arteries. Some small studies suggest that turmeric might help prevent cholesterol production in the liver, block cholesterol absorption in the gut, and help reduce inflammation.
On the downside, curcumin is not readily bioavailable, which means your body doesn’t absorb it easily, so it can be difficult to consume enough of it to make a difference. Consuming it with black pepper and healthful fat sources, like olive or canola oil, is believed to improve its bioavailability and absorbability. You also can try turmeric supplements.
Be aware that taking turmeric in high doses may cause some gastrointestinal problems, and it may interact adversely with certain medications, such as the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin). Ask your doctor if turmeric will interact with any medications you take.
Garlic is bad for your breath, but it may be good for your cholesterol. Garlic contains allicin, an ingredient that gives garlic its odor but also may help reduce LDL levels.
However, research has produced mixed findings about garlic’s cholesterol-lowering effects. While some research supported the benefits of garlic, one study found that neither fresh garlic nor garlic supplements significantly lowered LDL cholesterol over six months in 192 men and women ages 30 to 65.
Still, there’s little harm in including fresh garlic in your cooking, and you may obtain some cardiovascular benefits in the process.
For more information about foods that lower cholesterol, purchase Managing Your Cholesterol at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.