If you’re over 50, your doctor may have told you that you need to watch your cholesterol levels or reduce them. While there is a good place for prescription statin drugs that lower cholesterol, there are also several, natural foods that can keep cholesterol levels normal. They can even assist your medication therapy to help get your levels back to a normal range. You may already be eating many of them…
These Foods Can Help Normalize Cholesterol Levels
I always advise my patients to be proactive in preventing, or worsening, heart disease. I recommend that they increase the amount of healthy, natural, cholesterol-normalizing foods and decrease the amount of cholesterol-elevating foods like red meat and dairy. In fact, I advise my patients to start thinking of red meat as a “treat” food – as so many of the world’s most heart-healthy people do. They don’t eat it very much – only here and there, 4-6 ounces at the most.
Keep in mind that it also makes a difference whether you eat grass-fed or grain fed beef. Grass-fed beef is full of higher amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids that also help normalize cholesterol levels. Grain fed beef can foster inflammation in your arteries, which can cause cholesterol to act badly – building up in plaques that can damage your blood vessels and your heart. So, a little grass fed red meat is okay every week but forego the grain fed. When choosing dairy, go for the lower fat varieties, preferably skim milk and low fat yogurts.
Other foods that can really make a difference in normalizing your cholesterol levels are common and economical foods that you may have overlooked in your diet. Here are several good ones that you can pick up easily at your local grocery store:
1. Oat Bran. The type of fiber in oat bran, oat bran bread or oatmeal, attaches itself to LDL cholesterol and removes it from your colon before it travels into your blood vessels. Eating a bowl of cooked oat bran (higher fiber) or regular oatmeal everyday for breakfast, or even a late night snack, can help keep LDL cholesterol down and your arteries clean.
2. Nuts. The best ones are walnuts, almonds and macadamias. These contain good levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and health promoting polyphenols. Omega-3s help boost good HDL cholesterol and keep down LDL. They also help breakdown existing cholesterol plaques in arteries. Omega-7s (from macadamias) fight dangerous inflammation that can cause existing plaque buildups to rupture, sending clot-like fragments through your blood stream. These may cause blockages in blood flow that can result in heart attack or stroke. Just eat them plain, unsalted or lightly salted, to avoid water retention, and non-sugar coated to avoid insulin spikes. You can also add ¼ cup of mixed nuts to a vegetable stir fry to give it more crunch and protein value.
3. Fatty fish. Types like salmon, mackerel, and tuna, et al. These contain even higher levels of Omega-3’s than nuts. Also, supplementing with Omega-3 fish and krill oil capsules can help win the battle against cholesterol.
4. Stanols/sterols. These are plant compounds that help breakdown and block absorption of LDL cholesterol by about 10%. These compounds have been extracted from their natural sources, concentrated, and added to many foods in the last decade by food manufacturers. Orange juice, yogurt, Benecol chews, some cereals and snack bars (read labels).
5. Olive oil. A quick way to add more olive oil to your diet is to use it in place of butter on your bread or vegetables, and mixed with red wine vinegar and spices as a salad or vegetable dressing. You only need 2 tablespoons a day to make a real difference in your cholesterol levels, providing you aren’t also adding a lot of cholesterol through other sources.
6. Fruits. Apples, citrus fruits, stone fruits (peaches, plums, apricots), strawberries are full of pectin, another soluble fiber that helps get decrease LDL cholesterol absorption.
7. Beans. Beans are full of soluble fiber that, like oats, helps remove LDL cholesterol through elimination. They come in many varieties and are very economical, rich sources of proteins, minerals, and vitamins as well.
It’s always easier to prevent disease from developing than to treat it once it has. So, to avoid having to take cholesterol-lowering statin drugs that have many side effects to them, change your diet first to prevent your cholesterol from becoming a problem.
If you already have high cholesterol and your doctor has put you on statins to get your cholesterol down more quickly, adding these foods to your diet, omitting other cholesterol-boosting foods, exercising more, getting your weight down, can all work together to get your cholesterol back in the normal zone.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.