According to the CDC, nearly 2 in 5 adults have high cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Worse still, because there are no symptoms of high cholesterol, many people are unaware of their condition. Indeed, only 55% of adults with high cholesterol are treated for this disease, notes the CDC.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver and circulating in the blood. It is also found in foods of animal origin, including meat and full-fat dairy products.
Cholesterol isn’t necessarily “bad” – the American Heart Association (AHA) points out that it’s a key element our bodies need to build cells – but since our bodies make all the cholesterol it needs, it’s a good idea to eat less saturated as possible and trans fats (found in partially hydrogenated oils) in your diet as much as possible because they cause your body to produce excess cholesterol.
If you haven’t been tested for high cholesterol or aren’t sure about your level, ask your doctor if you should have a blood test. If you know your levels are too high, talk to a specialist about how you can lower them, either by changing your diet or taking medication.
Some changes you can make to your diet to lower your cholesterol levels
Limit the meat
Saturated fats — which are found in animal products such as ground beef, pork, and — are a major contributor to high LDL cholesterol levels. The AHA advises limiting our calories from saturated fat to about 5-6% of our daily intake. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories a day, that means no more than 120 calories, or about 13 grams, should come from saturated fat.
Limit your intake of butter and tropical oils
Replace coconut oil, palm oil and cottonseed oil (which are sources of saturated fat and should be used sparingly) with avocado, sunflower and olive oil , which are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These two fats help lower LDL cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Eat more omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts, seeds, and seafood can help fight inflammation, which can contribute to heart disease and stroke.
Omega-3s are found in flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. They are also found in fatty cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, sardines and anchovies.
If you don’t like fish or are allergic to seafood, try looking for plant sources of omega-3s, including seaweed.
Fill your plate with fiber
Fiber, especially soluble fiber, can help lower cholesterol levels. In particular, plant fibers can bind to cholesterol and help excrete it before it is digested and absorbed by the body.
Unfortunately, only 7% get the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber, as detailed in a 2021 study. According to the latest Dietary Guidelines from the US Department of Agriculture , women under 51 should aim to eat 25 grams of fiber daily, while women over 51 should aim for 21 grams. And men under 51 should aim for 38 grams.
You can add fiber to your diet by eating fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, prunes, broccoli and sweet potatoes. Eating the fruit with the skin on (after washing it) can be a good way to add extra fiber.
Other sources include oats, barley, bran, whole grains, beans, and lentils. Beans and lentils are also excellent creatine substitutes. Instead of eating the typical burger, you can make a black bean burger.
Replace saturated fat with soy
Contrary to popular belief, eating soy has heart benefits (although the benefits may not be as strong as previously thought). For example, if you crave a protein-rich meal, opt for tofu or tempeh instead of beef.
According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, replacing saturated fat from animal products with soy foods was associated with a 7.9–10.3 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol levels.
eat the rainbow
Eating a variety of vegetables and fruits can help lower cholesterol levels. The reason: Vegetables contain phytosterols (called plant sterols and plant stanols) that work much the same way as soluble fiber. Sterols can help prevent the absorption of cholesterol from your meal.
According to the CDC, a diet with the recommended amount of plant sterols (2g) can lower your LDL cholesterol levels by about 15%.
In general, vegetables contain more plant sterols than fruits, he says. Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, apples, avocados, and blueberries are all good choices.