Not all cholesterol is bad. In fact, having high levels of one type of cholesterol called HDL cholesterol helps to protect against heart disease. Your body needs a small amount of cholesterol to keep cell membranes fluid – and for making hormones and bile acids. But too much of this fatty substance can clog your arteries and raise your risk of heart disease.
Fortunately, not everyone who has a high blood cholesterol level needs to be on medications. Some people with only mild elevations can control their cholesterol entirely through diet. Unless your LDL cholesterol is very high, your doctor may suggest trying diet before medications. What’s the best way to eat for high cholesterol levels – to lower your levels naturally?
Discover the Power of Fiber
Do you start the morning with a bowl of high-fiber cereal? Oats are the ultimate breakfast food for people with high cholesterol levels. They contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan that helps bring high cholesterol levels down naturally. Eating just one bowl of oatmeal each morning can lower your cholesterol by 10% or more.
Oatmeal and oat bran aren’t the only fiber-rich foods that lower blood cholesterol levels. Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are all good sources of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. How does soluble fiber help? It binds to cholesterol in the intestinal tract, so it’s excreted rather than absorbed into the bloodstream.
To lower high blood cholesterol levels, start by making simple changes. Substitute whole wheat bread for white, and make the switch to brown rice. Discover other whole grain foods such as barley and quinoa, and help yourself to more veggies and beans instead of white rice and potatoes. These small changes all add up to a lower cholesterol level and a healthier heart.
To Lower High Blood Cholesterol Levels, Choose “Good” Fats
Saturated fat found in animal and dairy products raise blood cholesterol levels, but that doesn’t mean you have to live fat-free. There are healthy fats that can actually lower LDL cholesterol and your risk of heart disease. These include monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocados and nuts – and polyunsaturated fats like the omega-3s in fatty fish.
Again, simple changes are the key to lower blood cholesterol levels. Switch to olive oil for low-temperature cooking and for salad dressings. Substitute fatty fish such as salmon for red meat – and explore the world of vegetarian protein. Soy-based veggie meats have improved in taste, and they’re versatile and easy-to-prepare. Don’t forget about nuts, beans, and lentils. They’re an incomplete source of protein, but if you pair them with brown rice, you get a complete protein source that’s low in fat and high in fiber.
Cut Back How Much You Eat
If you’re carrying around a few too many pounds, losing the extra weight can help lower high blood cholesterol levels. Keep a food diary and see how many calories you’re actually taking in during the day. You may be surprised. Don’t forget to include all your snacks and “little nibbles” throughout the day. Many people don’t include these and then wonder why their weight is sneaking up on them. To lower LDL cholesterol, make it your goal to get down to your ideal body weight. This will lower your risk of heart disease too, independently of cholesterol levels.
The Bottom Line?
The amount you can lower high blood cholesterol levels through diet depends upon your genetics and how closely you adhere to a low-fat, high-fiber diet. Some people can lower their total cholesterol level by as much as 20%. Changing your diet is no guarantee you won’t need cholesterol medications, but it can help. Give it a try.
J Nutr; 2003 Feb 133(2):468-75 2003.
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.