Tuesday 16 March 2010, 09:05

Top foods to lower cholesterol

How diet can help lower blood cholesterol levels

Top foods to lower cholesterol

Diet can play an important role in lowering blood cholesterol.


First of all it is important to cut fats out of diet, especially saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in meat, dairy products, eggs and some oils, such as palm and coconut oils. They raise total cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. Trans fats (also called trans fatty acids) are found in margarine and are often used to make store-bought cookies, cakes, snack foods and crackers. They are particularly bad for cholesterol levels, because they cause LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) to increase and HDL-cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) to lower.


The second step in lowering cholesterol through diet is to introduce certain foods that have been proven to lower blood cholesterol, such as oatmeal, walnuts and almonds, fish, olive oil and foods fortified with plant sterols or stanols.


By these simple dietary changes, blood cholesterol can be lowered to healthy levels and medications can be avoided.


Oatmeal. Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces both the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine and the levels of LDL-cholesterol in the blood. Soluble fiber can be also found in other fruit, cereals or legumes, such as bananas, apples, pears, prunes, barley and kidney beans.


Walnuts and almonds. Tree nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, peanuts and pistachio nuts, are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids that lower LDL cholesterol, increase HDL cholesterol and help in keeping blood vessels healthy and elastic. However three nuts are highly caloric and, when in excess, they can lead to weight-gain (being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease). Therefore, in order to avoid this inconvenient, it is advisable to replace – whenever possible - foods high in saturated fats (meat, cheese, eggs) with tree nuts.


Fish. Certain fatty fishes (such as mackerel, sardines, lake trout, salmon and albacore tuna) contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, that inhibit liver production of triglycerides and cause small increases in the production of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol). The reported effects of omega-3 fatty acids on LDL-cholesterol levels are less consistent and vary. However omega-3 fatty acids have many other beneficial effects on the heart, such as reducing blood pressure and the risk of blood clots.


Olive oil. Olive oil - especially extra-virgin olive oil - contains a mix of antioxidant substances, such as polyphenols and tocopherols, that can lower LDL cholesterol levels, while leaving HDL-cholesterol levels unchanged. Olive oil can be added to the diet as a condiment or salad dressing, or it can replace butter in many cooking applications.


Foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols. Sterol and stanols are substances naturally occurring in small amounts in many plants. They are similar in structure to the cholesterol molecule and, when ingested, inhibit the absorption of cholesterol from the intestine. They have marked effects on LDL-cholesterol levels, while do not appear to affect the levels of HDL-cholesterol and triglycerides. Foods enriched with plant sterols and stanols are recommended for people with levels of LDL-cholesterol over 160 mg/dL.


By Chiara De Carli

Category: Nutrition

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