Are your blood test reports indicating that your cholesterol levels are high? Wondering how to lower them with the help of diet? Do not fret. In this article, we will guide you on how to reduce your cholesterol levels with the help of foods.

It is important that you make changes to your current lifestyle, be active, and have healthy meals to make a change in the levels of cholesterol, and be fit. Healthy cholesterol levels will lower the chances of heart diseases and decrease your risk of obesity. Obesity is a chronic disease involving an excessive amount of body fat. 

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol, a waxy, fat-like substance, found in all the cells of your body, is produced by your liver. You also obtain cholesterol through the food you eat. Cholesterol is present in animal foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, fish, and whole milk products.

There are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol.

  • LDL makes up most of your body's cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  • HDL helps remove other forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream. It carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, which is then removed from your body.

Triglycerides are another type of fat (lipid) found in your blood. Your body uses them for energy. High triglycerides can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, including obesity and high blood pressure (hypertension).

Some amount of cholesterol is essential for your body to carry out important functions but an excess of cholesterol is harmful. Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones (chemical messengers that help you carry out various functions), vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. 

The risk of heart disorders is increased when the cholesterol is high in your blood and it is left untreated. When the total LDL (bad) cholesterol levels are high in your blood, it causes a condition called hyperlipidemia or hypercholesterolemia. Hyperlipidemia is the presence of abnormally high levels of fats (lipids) in your blood. The two major types of lipids found in the blood are triglycerides and cholesterol.

It is recommended that you go for regular check-ups to find out if you have high cholesterol or not. The symptoms are silent and high cholesterol is identified only through blood tests. Your doctor may put you on medication if required.

Besides medication, a few changes in your diet can reduce cholesterol and improve your heart health. 

5 Foods Which Can Lower Your Cholesterol Levels

1. Oats. Oats are beneficial to heart health. It has soluble fibers in them which are known as beta-glucan. Studies have shown that beta-glucan helps in reducing the LDL (bad cholesterol), total cholesterol levels, thereby lowering the risk of heart diseases. 

After the soluble fiber enters your digestive tract (also known as Gastrointestinal Tract (GI) tract, it is a series of hollow organs from your mouth to the anus), beta-glucan forms a thick layer in the intestine. The thick layer can hold on to the extra cholesterol and restricts its absorption into the blood. In this way, the extra cholesterol is thrown out of your body. Do include oats in your daily meals.

2. Fatty Fish. Fishes like mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, herring, and tuna are termed oily or fatty fishes. They are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids lower your triglyceride levels, can increase HDL (good) cholesterol, and can help to manage healthy cholesterol ranges. 

The way you cook these fishes has an effect on your cholesterol levels. The best way to cook fish is to steam, grill, or broil it. Deep frying the fish will not reduce your cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests eating two servings of fatty fish at least twice a week.

Steaming is a type of moist-heat cooking method that uses steam to cook delicate foods like baby carrots, green beans, fishes, cubed zucchini, and greens. Grilling is a form of cooking that involves dry heat applied to the surface of food, commonly from above, below, or from the side. Broiling is cooking by exposing the food to direct radiant heat, either on a grill or below a gas burner or an electric coil.  

3. Apples. An apple contains about 4gm to 7gm of dietary fiber. It also contains antioxidant compounds called polyphenols that help inhibit the oxidation of LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Oxidation of LDL cholesterol leads to plaque buildup in your arteries. LDL can build up in your blood vessels and harden them. This buildup is called plaque.

Apples are widely available and full of healthy nutrients; adding them to your daily diet will only improve overall health.

4. Nuts. Nuts are nutrient-dense and offer a lot of nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamin E; minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios are rich in unsaturated fats i.e. polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. 

Unsaturated fats are healthy fats that are liquid or soft at room temperatures. Unsaturated fats are of two types: 

a) Polyunsaturated fats are a type of healthy fat that includes omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential for brain function.

b) Monounsaturated fats are a type of healthy dietary fat that can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol level.

Research has shown that nuts can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and improve HDL (good) cholesterol levels. But keep a check on the portion size when you eat nuts as they are calorie-dense too. Have raw, unsalted nuts to avoid having excess sodium which is present in salted ones.

5. Avocados. Avocados are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats lower LDL cholesterol and boost HDL cholesterol. It has plant sterols like beta-sitosterol which helps in lowering cholesterol levels. It also reduces your risk of heart disorders. 

Avocados are a rich source of potassium and potassium plays a role in reducing blood pressure. Make sure you consume avocados in limited quantities as they are rich in calories.

6. Fenugreek (Methi Seeds). Fenugreek seeds are known to lower LDL cholesterol levels. These seeds contain a compound called saponins. Saponins restrict the absorption of cholesterol and can reduce cholesterol production in your body. 

You can soak about 1 teaspoon of fenugreek or methi seeds in water overnight. Drink the water and chew the seeds on an empty stomach the next morning.

Include these foods in your diet, along with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, physical activity, and taking medication (if recommended by your doctor), to lower your cholesterol levels.

7. Dark Chocolate. Studies suggest that eating dark chocolate can lower your cholesterol levels. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants called flavonoids that prevent oxidation of LDL, which contributes to the buildup of fatty plaque on the walls of your blood vessels, thus, reducing LDL cholesterol levels.   

8. Olive Oil. It is a plant-based fat, and hence, a better option to lower your "bad" cholesterol than compared to fats that come from animals. 

It lowers inflammation, protects “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidation, improves the lining of your blood vessels, and may lower your risk of heart diseases.

9. Soy. Soy is low in saturated fat. Replacing high-fat milk products with soy milk may help you reduce cholesterol levels as soy proteins reduce the oxidative activity of LDL. Check with your dietician or physician about the daily intake of soy. Eating large amounts of soy can interfere with your thyroid and metabolic function.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.