Picture this: You’re sitting in your doctor’s office for your regular health check-up and your physician says you need to lower your cholesterol. Having high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease, as fatty deposits wind up in your blood vessels, making it difficult for blood to flow through the arteries. Many patients mistakenly think they must eliminate foods that are high in cholesterol from their diets. I’m happy to report you don’t have to deprive yourself to keep your cholesterol levels in check. In fact, cholesterol is a vital nutrient for health, cognition, and hormonal balance.
Eating well can go a long way in lowering high cholesterol. Reducing red meat consumption and processed foods while focusing more on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can have a positive impact on cholesterol.
High Fiber Can Also Be High Flavor
Some of the best foods you can eat to help lower your cholesterol are high-fiber foods. And these don’t have to be bland. Oatmeal full of berries or a banana, an apple, pears, brussels sprouts – any foods with soluble fiber like these, can help lower cholesterol. Aim for 21 to 25 grams at a minimum of soluble fiber per day if you’re a woman and 30 to 38 grams per day if you’re a man to help accomplish your goal. You might be surprised to find that even though this sounds like a lot of fiber to eat per day, it’s not that difficult to do. For example, a cup of oatmeal with a half cup of berries for breakfast is not only about 8 grams of fiber, it’s also a dish that’s full of flavor. Because fiber keeps you fuller longer, making sure you’re consuming your daily recommended allowance could help you snack less.
Trade Omega 3 for Red Meat
Another thing you can do to improve cholesterol (and reduce blood pressure, too) is to eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish is a great source for these! Salmon, tuna, trout, herring, and mackerel are all excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Some of these cuts of fish, especially tuna or salmon, make excellent beef replacements. They’re hearty and also healthy. Poultry and lean meat are other substitution options. Walnuts, flaxseed, and small amounts of canola oil also contain omega-3 fatty acids. This is not to say you have to give up red meat – just scale back your consumption frequency and be mindful of portion size.
Nuts and Avocados
Sometimes, when you’re trying to lower your cholesterol, it’s not what you’re taking away from your diet that helps you be successful, but what you’re adding into it. Nuts and avocados often fit into this category. Both are high in nutrients, lower the risk of heart complications, and help lower cholesterol.
Cut Back on Added Sugar
Our bodies don’t need sugar, especially added sugar. To satisfy the occasional craving for something sweet, reach for a small portion of dark chocolate for a concentrated punch of healthy antioxidants that may help to reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Diet Is Only One Component
Being thoughtful about what you eat is just one lifestyle modification that can improve cholesterol. Regular exercise, weight loss, and quitting tobacco use will also help lower high cholesterol. You doctor can help you develop a healthy plan of action with realistic goals to manage your cholesterol levels and offer encouragement when you need it.
Dr. Mehreen Fatima is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Sienna Plantation Clinic in Missouri City. Her clinical interests include preventive healthcare, chronic disease management and women’s health.