Can a bowl of oatmeal help lower cholesterol? What about a handful of nuts or even a baked potato with some heart-healthy margarine? Some simple dietary changes like these, along with exercise and other heart-healthy habits, could help. | Low Cholesterol Foods
Diet can play an important role in lowering cholesterol. Here are five foods that the U.S.-based Mayo Clinic publishes on its website aimed at the general population that can lower cholesterol levels and protect the heart.
Oats, oat bran and high-fiber foods
Oats contain soluble fiber, which reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol), and is also found in foods such as beans, apples, pears, barley, and raisins.
Soluble fiber can reduce the passage of cholesterol into the bloodstream. Five to ten grams or more of soluble fiber a day lowers your total and LDL cholesterol. Eating one and a half cups of cooked oatmeal provides 6 grams of fiber. If you add fruit, such as bananas, you’ll include about 4 more grams of fiber. Try oatmeal and oat bran in their different forms to add variety to your diet.
Fish and omega-3 fatty acids
Eating oily fish can be heart-healthy because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce blood pressure and the risk of developing blood clots. In people who have already had heart attacks, fish oil (or omega-3 fatty acids) reduces the risk of sudden death.
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are in: mackerel, river trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, and halibut.
It is preferable to bake the fish to avoid adding unhealthy fats. If fish is not to our taste, we can also take small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from foods such as flaxseed or rapeseed oil.
You can also take a fish oil or omega-3 supplement to get some benefits, but you will not get other nutrients from fish, such as selenium. If you decide to take a supplement, remember to examine your diet and eat lean meat or vegetables instead of fish.
Walnuts, almonds and other nuts and dried fruits
Walnuts, almonds and other nuts can lower blood cholesterol. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, nuts can also keep blood vessels healthy. Eating about a handful, about 45 grams, a day of most nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, some pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Just make sure the nuts are not salted or sugar-coated.
All nuts are high in calories, so a handful is enough. To avoid eating too many nuts and gaining weight, substitute foods high in saturated fat with nuts. For example, instead of using cheese, meat or croutons in your salad, add a handful of walnuts or almonds.
Olive oil contains a potent combination of antioxidants that can lower ‘bad’ cholesterol but leave ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol unchanged. Try using about two tablespoons, about 23 grams, of olive oil a day instead of other fats in your diet to get its heart-healthy benefits.
In addition to sautéing vegetables and dressing salads, it can also be used as a substitute for butter on bread. Olive oil is high in calories, so do not eat more than the recommended amount.
The cholesterol-lowering effects associated with olive oil are even greater if you choose the extra virgin varieties, which are less processed and contain more heart-healthy antioxidants. ‘Mild’ olive oils are usually more processed than extra-virgin or virgin and have a lighter color, but are not lower in fat or calories.
Foods with added plant sterols or stanols
There are now popular foods that have been fortified with sterols or stanols, substances found in plants that help block cholesterol absorption. Margarines, orange juices, and yogurt drinks with added plant sterols can reduce LDL cholesterol by more than 10%.
The daily amount of plant sterols to get results is at least 2 grams daily, which is found in about 235 ml of sterol-enriched orange juice.
The plant sterols or stanols in fortified foods do not appear to affect triglyceride or low-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, the good cholesterol.
OTHER DIETARY CHANGES
For any of these foods to provide their benefits, it is necessary to make dietary and lifestyle changes. Trans fats, which are sometimes found in margarines and commercial cookies, crackers, bread and cakes, are particularly bad for cholesterol levels. Trans fats increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the bad cholesterol, and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the good cholesterol.
In addition to changing the diet, it should be remembered that making additional lifestyle changes associated with heart health is key to lowering cholesterol. Therefore, it is advisable to talk to your doctor about what kind of physical exercise to do, how to quit smoking and how to maintain a healthy weight to help keep your cholesterol low.