Elevated cholesterol levels are among the risk factors for an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease remains the number 1 cause of deaths globally, amounting to 17.3 million deaths each year. Number 2 on the list is deaths from strokes (1).
The good news is that heart disease and stroke are largely preventable through following a healthy diet. Your cholesterol can be lowered naturally through incorporating the following foods into your daily diet.
Salmon, sardines, and mackerel among others are referred to as ‘Fatty fish’ due to them being dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3’s are essential fatty acids that our body cannot produce on its own. They are however essential for good health in that they help to lower cholesterol, decrease inflammation and improve brain health. Incorporating at least 3 portions of fatty fish per week has been linked to a reduced risk of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) (2).
If you are not a big fan of eating fish, then a daily supplement with a high quality of omega 3 fish capsules will also bring about the same benefits.
Nuts and Nut Butter
You may know that nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats, but they are in fact extremely beneficial when it comes to lowering your cholesterol and improving your heart health.
Nuts are nutrient rich with a fat content that varies from 46% in pistachios to 76% in macadamia nuts. Additionally, they are a good source of dietary fibre. Walnuts are celebrated as the healthiest of the nut family as they contain the highest quantity of plant based omega-3 fatty acids.
When it comes to the protein content of nuts of particular interest is their L-arginine content. L-arginine is an amino acid, which is a precursor to nitric oxide (NO). This is relevant as NO is a powerful vasodilator, in simple terms, it means that NO helps to reduce blood pressure and therefore lower the risk of stroke (3,4)
Studies’ following the dietary intake of participants for almost 18 years has shown that those with the highest intake of nuts had a 37% reduction in their risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) (5).
Remember that even though nuts are extremely good for us, it is important to eat them in moderation. A small handful of nuts with a snack or a tablespoon of nut butter is more than enough to enjoy their benefits.
Oats and Oatbran
If you are not into oats or are trying to practice a low carbohydrate plan, no problem! Simply add 1-2 tablespoons of oat bran to your smoothies or soups daily to reap the health benefits without the carbohydrates. Oat bran is extremely high in fibre without the added carbohydrates or calories.
It goes without saying that there are multiple reasons to eat your vegetables. Another reason is their capacity to help lower your cholesterol.
Not only are vegetables loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, but they are also full of fibre, more specifically pectin. Pectin is a soluble fibre found in many of our fruits and vegetables.
If you think of a jar of marmalade, for instance, the reason it has that jell-like consistency is due to the pectin found in orange and lemon peels. We obviously do not eat orange peels, but many vegetables naturally have a large quantity of pectin.
Pectin works to lower cholesterol by binding to cholesterol in our intestines and carrying them out of the body instead of them being absorbed into the bloodstream (8, 9). The end result is that by increasing your daily intake of fibre rich vegetables, you naturally lower your cholesterol.
Start increasing your vegetable intake with each and every meal by ensuring that you have something fresh on your plate. Add broccoli to your scrambled eggs in the morning or spinach to your smoothies.
Monounsaturated fats help to improve our cardiovascular (heart) health by increasing our good cholesterol (HDL) and lowering our bad cholesterol (LDL).
A recent Meta-analysis of ten different studies found that regularly substituting avocado for other fats helped to improve lipid profiles significantly. Total cholesterol, triglycerides as well as LDL were all decreased (10) in participants who favoured avocado in place of other fats.
To take full advantage of this heart-healthy fat, use it instead of butter when baking or use in place of mayonnaise when making a sandwich.
Pass the guacamole!
Berries are the lowest in fructose (fruit sugar) out of all the fruit. This means that we can eat a lot more of them without having to worry about any detrimental effects on our blood sugar levels. Lately, berries have received a lot more attention as we have realised that they contain certain compounds called phytochemicals and antioxidants, which offer a vast array of health benefits.
One such benefit is the lowering of cholesterol levels. It was found that the consumption of fresh berries not only lowers LDL cholesterol but also works to increased HDL levels. Blackberries were found to have the strongest effect on bringing down LDL cholesterol followed by red raspberries, cherries, and strawberries (11).
Another study focused on strawberries and their particular phytochemical content. After eating 500g of strawberries for a month, participants baseline blood values were evaluated and compared to their results before they started. It was found that the participants’ had significantly reduced LDL cholesterol, triglyceride and total cholesterol levels (12).
Start on your journey to better health today by incorporating these delicious whole foods into your diet and lifestyle.