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5 foods that lower cholesterol

Need to lower your cholesterol? These healthy foods could help.

You go the doctor for an annual check-up and every year your cholesterol numbers are usually within the goal limit. But this year, the doctor breaks the news: your cholesterol numbers have passed the target range. What to do?

High cholesterol can raise your risk of heart disease. We know genetics play a very important role in raising cholesterol. Depending on your cholesterol levels, most physicians will recommend healthy eating habits and lifestyle changes before starting medications.

Here are some of my suggestions to lower your cholesterol through food.

Oatmeal and Barley

steel cut oats

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Oatmeal and barley are high in soluble fiber. Eating 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber per day will lower your total and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

Kick-start your day by adding unprocessed oatmeal such as steel-cut oats for breakfast.  A half cup of cooked oatmeal can provide 2 to 3 grams of soluble fiber.

Barley is naturally high in beta-glucans which have shown to lower cholesterol. Although barley is not very popular in this country, consider substituting pearled barley instead of rice or wheat. Also available are barley flakes, which can be sprinkled on salad, yogurt and cereals.

Beans

dried beans

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Beans are powerhouse of nutrition. They are bursting with protein, high in soluble fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals.

“Go meatless” this Monday. Substitute beans instead of meat on your plate. Try eating beans at least three times a week. Try bean soup, hummus with vegetables or hummus on a sandwich. Instead of eggs, consider making a bean taco for breakfast.

Plant stanols

broccoli

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Plant stanols are naturally present in some plant-based foods such as legumes, nuts, yogurt and broccoli. Plant stanols can block the absorption of cholesterol. They can help reduce LDL cholesterol by 10 percent. Currently in the supermarket we also have margarines such as Smart Balance Light (Heart Smart) which is enriched with plant stanols, orange juice and yogurt.  Consider spreading up to 2 tablespoons of margarine for your English muffin or whole grain toast.

Olive Oil

olive oil

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Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat and seems to lower LDL cholesterol. Olive oil is also high in Vitamin E and is an antioxidant. The cholesterol-lowering effects of extra-virgin olive oil are much more than the less-processed ‘light’ colored olive oil.

Be cautious with the amount of oil you use. It is high in calories. Too much of a good thing can result in weight gain. The recommended amount is 2 tablespoons by the FDA. You can use olive oil to sauté your vegetables or make homemade dressing with oil and vinegar.

Omega-3 rich foods

salmon

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Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower your LDL cholesterol. Our diets tend to higher in Omega-6 and not Omega-3’s. You can boost your Omega-3 intake by adding fish such as salmon, trout, albacore tuna, mackerel or herring to your diet twice a week.

Not a fan of fish? Consider adding a handful of unsalted, roasted nuts such as walnuts or almonds to your salad or as snack. But be cautious with nuts – it’s easy to overeat them and may cause those unwanted extra pounds.

There are so many other foods which can be added to the list, but for now this is a good starting point.

The next time you go to the grocery store, pick up some of the items listed. My philosophy is food always has to taste good first, and, yes, fat does make the food taste good, but we can use healthy fats and in controlled amounts!  Consider adding spices to enhance the flavor of your foods!

About the Author

Neelu Kohli is a Registered Dietitian with ADC's Diabetes Management program and Nutrition Services. SHe writes about healthy eating habits and nutritious recipes.