The topic of cholesterol has increasingly become confusing for most people. First, we’re told that HDL cholesterol is good while LDL cholesterol is harmful. More recently, many people have been reporting that cholesterol is fine and no longer a factor in heart disease. What’s a person to believe? Well, there’s truth in both sides of this story.
First, we need cholesterol. It’s involved in the repair of arterial walls as well as the formation of hormones, both of which are essential to our health. But, the reality is that we still need to maintain a healthy balance of cholesterol, rather than toss out our healthy diet altogether. Many people turn to statin drugs, but they are replete with many nasty side-effects (such as weakness, dementia and muscle pain to name a few) but in some cases dietary changes have been shown to be just as effective as the drugs. Here are some of the best ways to restore and maintain balanced cholesterol levels:
Apples: In a study funded by the USDA, postmenopausal women who ate dried apples daily experienced a 23 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol (the one known as “bad cholesterol”) and a 4 percent increase in HDL cholesterol (“the good cholesterol”) within six months. Another study published in the BMJ showed that eating just one apple a day resulted in an equivalent reduction of mortality from heart attack or stroke as taking statin drugs, without any of the drug complications. The British scientists estimated that if 70 percent of the 50+ population ate one apple daily, 8500 deaths every year due to heart attack or stroke would be averted in the UK alone. And, if 90 percent of the British population over fifty ate a daily apple, the number of lives saved would climb to 11,000 annually
Beans: Simply adding a ½ cup of cooked beans like kidney, pinto, black, black-eyed, garbanzo, or other, to your daily diet can help reduce harmful cholesterol and keep overall cholesterol levels in check. That’s easy to do when you add them to a salad, soup, stew, curry—or enjoy hummus, chili or other bean dishes in your daily diet.
Yogurt: Research shows that yogurt made with the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum improves cholesterol (as well as blood sugar levels and homocysteine levels, both of which are imperative to good cardiovascular health). Dairy-free yogurt options that contain L. plantarum likely confer the same benefits.
Garlic: Eat more garlic. It can lower high blood pressure, prevent hardening of the arteries and lessen cholesterol buildup in the heart.
Vegetables: Eat more vegetables. We hear it all the time, but the reality is that a plant-based diet offers many health benefits, including balanced cholesterol levels. And, it really isn’t difficult to increase your vegetable intake and find new ways to enjoy vegetables if you’re not a fan.
Cilantro: Fresh cilantro may grace the dishes of Mexico and India, among others, but it also offers impressive protection against heart disease. That’s because it helps to keep arteries free of fatty deposits and plaque that build up when low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol molecules are oxidized by free radicals. It is also high in the flavonoid quercetin, which slows the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and potentially protects artery walls from damage.
Red Clover: That weed growing on your front lawn, replete with small purple, pink or white flowers, is more than just a nuisance, its potent natural medicine in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. According to research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it reduces high levels of LDL cholesterol, while also improving the elasticity of arteries. Red clover is available in dried form (use one heaping teaspoon per cup of boiled water for tea).
Ginger: Not just good for gingerbread cookies, ginger has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, according to research cited in the book Healing Spices by B. B. Aggarwal and D. Yost. The study dose was 1000mg of dried ginger daily, which is available in capsule form. Alternatively, you can also add a tablespoon of freshly-ground ginger to your soups, stews, curries, baked goods or other foods to reap its health benefits.