You’ve probably heard that certain foods can help lower cholesterol. But what is the connection between diet and cholesterol?
Let’s take a step back. In case you need a quick refresher on cholesterol, our bodies contain two types: HDL, the “happy” or “good” type, and LDL, the “bad” type. In general, having a high HDL is beneficial, whereas having a high LDL increases the risk of heart disease.
This is because LDL tends to clog and harden arteries, whereas HDL transports LDL to the liver, where it is eliminated. HDL also appears to protect against blood vessel damage (a major precursor to hardened arteries).
Then there’s dietary cholesterol, which is found in foods derived from animals. Formerly, experts believed that consuming high-cholesterol foods, such as egg yolks and shrimp, increased total blood cholesterol levels. Recent research has shown that to be false.
Other foods, such as oats and almonds, can help you manage or improve your overall cholesterol profile and reduce your risk of heart disease. Below are my top five recommendations for these “cholesterol helpers,” as well as simple and delicious ways to consume them more often.
5 Recommendations For Cholesterol Helpers
Pulses, the umbrella term for beans, lentils, and peas such as chickpeas, have been linked in multiple studies to cholesterol reduction. One study, published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, found that daily consumption of 3/4 cup of pulses reduced bad LDL cholesterol by 5%. This may not seem like much, but it represents a significant decline.
Pulses are one of the most versatile food groups, as they can be consumed in savory and sweet dishes and are available in various forms, such as whole beans, purees like hummus, pulse flours, and products like pasta made from pulses. Blend chickpea flour into a smoothie or incorporate beans into an omelet. Snack on roasted chickpeas or roasted vegetables with lentil dip. Add beans or lentils to salads or soups, replace wheat noodles with pulse noodles, and substitute chickpea or fava bean flour for all-purpose flour in baked goods. Even hummus or pureed split peas or lentils can be substituted for creamy sauces.
In a study conducted by the Pennsylvania State University, overweight adults were placed on a low- or moderate-fat diet with or without avocado. While the low-fat diet reduced LDL by 7 mg/dL, the moderate-fat diet produced significantly better results: The non-avocado group experienced an 8 mg/dL decrease in LDL, while the avocado group experienced a 14 mg/dL decrease.
Avocado complements nearly every dish! Spread it on toast made with whole grains, blend it into a smoothie, or incorporate it into an omelet, frittata, or salad. Use it as a garnish for soups, chili, fish, poultry, beans, hummus, whole grains, and vegetables. You can also eat guacamole as a snack with raw vegetables, substitute avocado for butter in baking, and whip it into puddings and sauces.
Oats are a well-known superfood that lowers cholesterol. In a four-week Thai study, individuals with high cholesterol were given either oatmeal or rice porridge. People who consumed oatmeal had a 5% reduction in total cholesterol and a 10% reduction in LDL.
Oats can be whipped into smoothies, toasted and sprinkled over fresh fruit, folded into energy balls, layered in parfaits, or added to acai bowls for breakfast. Currently, there are undoubtedly dozens of variations of overnight oats. In addition, oatmeal can be served both sweet and savory. Make it with organic low-sodium vegetable broth and add zucchini, onions, mushrooms, garlic, and Italian seasoning. Then, a sunny-side-up egg is added.
Additionally, oats can be used as a coating for baked fish or chicken (in place of breadcrumbs) and as a filler in meatballs, meatloaves, and patties. And oats and oat flour are essential for healthier cookies, baked goods, and desserts. I even combine them with cinnamon, ginger, and coconut flakes in melted dark chocolate to make “haystacks.” Another healthy dessert suggestion: Almond butter and pumpkin pie spice are combined with oats to make a crumble topping for sautéed fruit (aka mock cobbler).
According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, heart disease patients who consumed just 10 grams of almonds (about eight almonds) before breakfast significantly increased their levels of protective HDL. At week 6, the subjects’ good cholesterol levels were 12-14% higher than at baseline, and by week 12, they were 14-16% higher.
In addition to whole almonds, almond butter, and almond flour can be used in numerous meals and snacks. Blend almond butter into smoothies, incorporate it into oatmeal or parfaits, spread it on toast made with whole grains, or spread it on sliced fruit. Add garlic and fresh ginger to almond butter for a flavorful sandwich spread, or thin the mixture with organic low-sodium vegetable broth to create a sauce for steamed or stir-fried vegetables. Almond meal or almond meal powder can also be used to coat fish or poultry. In addition, sliced almonds are an excellent garnish for any stir-fry, whole grain, or cooked vegetable dish.
Almond butter is the foundation of many energy ball recipes, and all forms of almonds are indispensable in baking and dessert preparation. I combine almond flour and chickpea flour to make gluten-free pumpkin spice muffins and brownies. I also enjoy mixing chopped or sliced almonds, dried cherries, and ginger into melted dark chocolate to make bark.
5. Green tea
One strategy for reducing the risk of heart disease is to lower LDL without also lowering HDL. The glad tidings? Green tea appears to be effective. Green tea consumption significantly decreased total cholesterol levels (by more than 7 mg/dL) and LDL values (by more than 2 mg/dL) without affecting protective HDL, according to a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In addition to drinking hot or cold green tea, the beverage can be incorporated into meals. In smoothies or marinades, use chilled green as the liquid. Use tea that has been heated as a base for soups, or to steam brown rice or vegetables. One of my favorite cocktail ingredients is chilled green tea flavored with fresh ginger, mint, or basil and fresh fruit. Try it in place of a sugary mixer in a margarita. Cheers!
- Have you tried any of these foods to manage your cholesterol levels?
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