Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by your liver and obtained by eating animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs.
Your liver will produce less cholesterol if you consume a lot of this substance from food, so dietary cholesterol rarely has a great impact on total cholesterol levels.
However, eating large amounts of saturated fat, trans fat and sugars can raise cholesterol levels.
Bear in mind that there are different types of cholesterol.
While “good” HDL cholesterol may be beneficial for your health, high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, particularly when oxidized, have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke
That’s because oxidized LDL cholesterol is more likely to stick to the walls of your arteries and form plaques, which clog these blood vessels.
Here are 5 tips to lower cholesterol with your diet and help reduce your risk of heart disease.
5 Health Tips to Lower Cholesterol
Eat Foods Rich in Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber is found in large quantities in beans, legumes, whole grains, flax, apples and citrus. Humans lack the proper enzymes to break down soluble fiber, so it moves through your digestive tract, absorbing water and forming a thick paste.
As it travels, soluble fiber absorbs bile, a substance produced by your liver to help digest fats. Eventually, both the fibre and attached bile are excreted in your stool.
Bile is made from cholesterol, so when your liver needs to make more bile it pulls cholesterol out of your bloodstream, which lowers cholesterol levels naturally.
Regular soluble fiber consumption is associated with a 5–10% reduction in both total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol in as little as four weeks. It’s recommended to eat at least 5–10 grams of soluble fiber each day for the maximum cholesterol-lowering effects, but benefits have been seen at even lower intakes of 3 grams per day.
Enjoy Lots of Fruits and Vegetables
Eating fruits and vegetables is an easy way to lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Studies show that adults who consume at least four servings of fruits and vegetables each day have roughly 6% lower LDL cholesterol levels than people who eat fewer than two servings per day
Fruits and vegetables also contain high numbers of antioxidants, which prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and forming plaques in your arteries.
Together, these cholesterol-lowering and antioxidant effects can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Research has found that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables have a 17% lower risk of developing heart disease over 10 years compared to those who eat the fewest.
Cook with Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are nutritional powerhouses packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Human studies have shown that garlic, turmeric and ginger are especially effective at lowering cholesterol when eaten regularly.
In fact, eating just one garlic clove per day for three months is enough to lower total cholesterol by 9%.
In addition to lowering cholesterol, herbs and spices contain antioxidants that prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, reducing the formation of plaques within your arteries. Even though herbs and spices are not typically eaten in large quantities, they can contribute significantly to the total amount of antioxidants consumed each day. Dried oregano, sage, mint, thyme, clove, allspice and cinnamon contain some of the highest numbers of antioxidants, as well as fresh herbs such as oregano, marjoram, dill and cilantro.
Eat a Variety of Unsaturated Fats
Two main kinds of fats are found in food: saturated and unsaturated.
On a chemical level, saturated fats contain no double bonds and are very straight, allowing them to pack together tightly and stay solid at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats contain at least one double bond and have a bent shape, preventing them from joining together as tightly. These attributes make them liquid at room temperature.
Research shows that replacing most of your saturated fats with unsaturated fats can reduce total cholesterol by 9% and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 11% in just eight weeks
Longer-term studies have also found that people who eat more unsaturated fats and fewer saturated fats tend to have lower cholesterol levels over time.
Foods like avocados, olives, fatty fish and nuts contain ample heart-healthy unsaturated fats, so it’s beneficial to eat them regularly.
Avoid Artificial Trans Fats
While trans fats occur naturally in red meat and dairy products, most people’s main source is artificial trans fat used in many restaurants and processed foods.
Artificial trans fats are produced by hydrogenating — or adding hydrogen to — unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils to change their structure and solidify them at room temperature.
Trans fats make a cheap alternative to natural saturated fats and have been widely used by restaurants and food manufacturers.
However, substantive research shows that eating artificial trans fats increases “bad” LDL cholesterol, lowers “good” HDL cholesterol and is linked to a 23% greater risk of heart disease
Watch out for the words “partially hydrogenated” in ingredients lists. This term indicates that the food contains trans fat and should be avoided.
As of June 2018, artificial trans fats are banned from use in restaurants and processed foods sold in the US, so they’re becoming much easier to avoid.
Naturally occurring trans fats found in meat and dairy products can also raise LDL cholesterol. However, they’re present in small enough quantities to generally not be considered a large health risk.