6 Tips To Lower Cholesterol In Your Diet
Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver and obtained from the consumption of animal products such as meat, dairy products and eggs.
When you consume more cholesterol from food, your liver produces less, so dietary cholesterol is unlikely to have a significant impact on your total cholesterol levels.
However, eating large amounts of saturated fats, trans fats and sugar can raise cholesterol levels.
It is important to remember that there are different types of cholesterol.
While “good” HDL cholesterol is good for your health, “bad” LDL cholesterol, especially when it is oxidized, can increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
This is because oxidized LDL cholesterol is more likely to stick to the walls of arteries and form plaque, which can clog blood vessels.
Here are 6 tips to help you lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease through diet.
- Eat more foods that are high in soluble fiber
Soluble fiber is found in beans, legumes, whole grains, flax, apples and citrus fruits.
Humans don’t have the right enzymes to break down soluble fiber, so it absorbs water as it moves through the digestive tract, forming a thick paste.
As it moves, soluble fiber absorbs bile, a substance produced by the liver to help digest fats. Eventually, the fiber and associated bile are excreted in the feces.
Bile is made up of cholesterol, so when the liver needs to make more bile, it removes cholesterol from the bloodstream, naturally lowering cholesterol levels.
Regular consumption of soluble fiber can lower total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 5-10% in as little as 4 weeks.
While it is recommended to consume at least 5-10 grams of soluble fiber per day to maximize cholesterol-lowering effects, benefits can be seen even at intakes as low as 3 grams per day.
- Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Eating fruits and vegetables is an easy way to lower LDL cholesterol.
Studies have shown that adults who eat four or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day have about 6% less LDL cholesterol than those who eat two or fewer servings per day.
Fruits and vegetables also contain high levels of antioxidants that help prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and forming plaque in the arteries.
Together, these cholesterol-lowering and antioxidant properties may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Studies have shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a 17 percent lower risk of heart disease after 10 years than those who eat less.
- Cook with herbs and spices
Herbs and spices are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
In human studies, garlic, turmeric and ginger were particularly effective in lowering cholesterol when consumed regularly.
In fact, eating just one clove of garlic a day for three months can lower total cholesterol by as much as 9%.
In addition to lowering cholesterol, herbs and spices contain antioxidants that prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thereby reducing the formation of arterial plaque.
Herbs and spices are generally not consumed in large quantities, but they contribute significantly to your total daily intake of antioxidants.
Dried oregano, sage, peppermint, thyme, cloves, allspice and cinnamon contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants, as do fresh herbs such as oregano, marjoram, dill and cilantro.
- Eat more of a variety of unsaturated fats
There are two main types of fats in the diet: saturated fats and unsaturated fats.
Chemically speaking, saturated fats contain no double bonds and are very straight, so they clump together tightly and remain solid at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats contain at least one double bond and have a folded shape that prevents them from clinging together. These properties make them a liquid at room temperature.
Studies have shown that replacing most saturated fats with unsaturated fats can lower total cholesterol by 9% and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 11% in as little as 8 weeks.
Long-term studies have also shown that people who eat more unsaturated fats and less saturated fats tend to have lower cholesterol levels over time.
Foods such as avocados, olives, fatty fish and nuts contain high levels of heart-healthy unsaturated fats and should be consumed regularly.
- Avoid artificial trans fats
Trans fats are naturally found in red meat and dairy products, but most people primarily consume artificial trans fats, which are used in many restaurants and processed foods.
Artificial trans fats are made by adding hydrogen gas (hydrogenation) to unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils, changing their structure and solidifying them at room temperature.
Trans fats are a cheap alternative to natural saturated fats and are widely used by restaurants and food manufacturers.
However, numerous studies have shown that consumption of artificial trans fats increases “bad” LDL cholesterol, lowers “good” HDL cholesterol, and is associated with a 23% increased risk of heart disease.
Note the term “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list. This term indicates that the food contains trans fats and should be avoided.
As of June 2018, artificial trans fats have been banned in restaurants and processed foods sold in the U.S., making it easier to avoid them.
Natural trans fats in meat and dairy products can also raise LDL cholesterol. However, they are present in such small amounts that they are not considered a significant health risk.
- Try cholesterol-lowering supplements
In addition to diet, some supplements can help lower cholesterol levels naturally.
- Niacin: Supplementation with 1 to 6 grams of niacin per day can lower LDL cholesterol levels by up to 19% over a year. However, it may cause side effects and should only be taken under the supervision of a doctor.
- Psyllium husk: Psyllium husk is rich in soluble fiber, and mixing it with water and taking it daily can help lower cholesterol. Studies have shown that psyllium husk is a supplement to cholesterol-lowering drugs.
- L-Carnitine: L-Carnitine can lower LDL levels and reduce oxidation in diabetics. 2 grams per day for 3 months can reduce oxidized cholesterol levels by 5 times compared to placebo.
Dietary changes, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, cooking with herbs and spices, eating more soluble fiber, and supplementing with unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce these risks.
To keep cholesterol in a healthy range, avoid foods that raise LDL cholesterol, such as trans fats and added sugars.