High cholesterol is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Also, a low HDL or the “good” cholesterol and high triglycerides is connected to increased risk of heart disease. Foods we consume can have a dominant effect on your cholesterol and other risk factors.
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Here are 12 foods that can lower cholesterol and improve other risk factors for heart disease.
- Dark Leafy Greens
It’s true that vegetables are good for your heart, however, dark leafy greens are mostly helpful. Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale is rich in lutein and other carotenoids, which are linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
Carotenoids helps eliminate harmful free radicals that can lead to hardening of the arteries which is also known as atherosclerosis. Dark leafy greens help lower cholesterol levels by binding to bile acids and causing the body excrete more cholesterol.
Nuts, especially walnuts and almonds are good nutrient-dense food. They contain monounsaturated fats. Walnuts are also rich in the plant variety of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat that’s connected to health of the heart.
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Nuts also contain protein and are rich in L-arginine, an amino acid that helps produce nitric oxide which aid in blood pressure regulation. Nuts are also rich in phytosterols which are plant compounds are structurally similar to cholesterol and aids lower cholesterol by blocking its absorption in the intestines.
Also found in nuts are potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These minerals are linked to reduced blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease.
Most fruits contain soluble fiber, which helps in lowering levels of cholesterol. It does this by encouraging the body to get rid of cholesterol and preventing the liver from forming cholesterol.
One kind of soluble fiber, pectin has been shown to lower cholesterol by up to 10%. It’s found in fruits including strawberries, grapes, citrus fruits, and apples.
These fruits are rich in bioactive compounds that help prevent heart disease due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Legumes are a group of plant foods that includes lentils, beans, and peas. Legumes, also called pulses contain lots of minerals, fiber, and protein. Instead of consuming refined grains and processed meats, go for legumes which can lower your risk of heart disease.
Eating half a cup (118 ml) of legumes per day is effective at lowering LDL cholesterol by an average of 6.6 mg/dl, compared to not eating legumes, according to a review of 26 randomized controlled studies.
- Dark Chocolate
Research claims dark chocolate and cocoa can lower LDL cholesterol. A study of healthy adult coffee drinkers who took cocoa beverage twice a day for a month observed substantial improvement.
The cocoa drinkers saw a reduction in LDL cholesterol of 0.17 mmol/l (equivalent to 6.5 mg/dl). Their blood pressure also decreased and HDL cholesterol increased.
Note that chocolate is often high in added sugar, which negatively affects heart health. Therefore, it is advisable to use cocoa directly.
Garlic has been used for a very long time as an ingredient for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Garlic is rich in various powerful plant compounds, such as allicin, the main active compound in garlic. Many studies have connected garlic to lowering blood pressure in persons with hypertension.
Avocados are a rich source of monounsaturated fats and fiber. These two nutrients helps lower LDL and raise healthy HDL cholesterol. Clinical studies support the cholesterol-lowering effect of avocados. A study found that replacing avocados for other fats was linked to lower total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides.
- Soy Foods
Soybeans are legumes that may be useful for heart health. From a 2015 analysis of 35 studies, eating soy foods was linked to reductions in LDL and total cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol.
- Fatty Fish
Fatty fishes, like mackerel and salmon, are good sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are linked to improved health of heart through increasing HDL cholesterol and lowering inflammation and stroke risk. Some of the heart-protective benefits of fish may also come from certain peptides found in fish protein
One large study tracked young adults, following their health for over 25 years. From the study, those who ate the most non-fried fish were the least likely to develop metabolic syndrome – a cluster of symptoms that includes high blood pressure and low HDL levels.
- Whole Grains
Eating whole grains like barley and oats have been linked by studies to a lower risk of heart disease. A review of 45 studies linked eating three servings of whole grains daily to a 20% lower risk of heart disease and stroke. The benefits were even greater with more servings of whole grains, up to seven servings a day. Oats contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol. Also, barley is rich in beta-glucans and can help lower LDL cholesterol.
Tea contains many plant compounds that are linked to improved heart health. Apart from green tea gets a lot of attention, black tea and white tea have similar properties and health effects. The two of the primary compounds in tea that makes it potent are catechins and quercetin. Most studies have linked drinking tea to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin oil is one of the most important foods in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. In a five-year study in older adults at risk of heart disease, participants were given 4 tablespoons a day, in addition to a Mediterranean diet.
The olive oil group had a 30% lower risk of major heart events, such as stroke and heart attack, compared to people who followed a low-fat diet.