Unless you want to be choking down Lipitor pills like they’re candy in your older years, reigning in your cholesterol levels needs to be one of your health priorities. It is still a somewhat nebulous health factor for a lot of people, as we spend a good deal of time talking about things like obesity and calories — with cholesterol as an afterthought. But it’s interrelated, and too much of it can cause some serious health concerns.
So, what is it, anyway? Basically, it is “a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body,” or so say the National Institutes of Health. “Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. However, cholesterol also is found in some of the foods you eat.”
Now, cholesterol comes in a couple of different forms: a good type, and a bad type. The good type, which is commonly referred to as HDL (high-density lipoprotein), helps protect against buildup in your arteries, and fights heart disease. The bad kind, LDL ((low-density lipoprotein), basically does the opposite — it collects in your arteries, making it harder for your heart to pump blood around the body. That’s why higher cholesterol levels lead to heart attacks.
The key is to watch your diet and make sure you’re not ingesting too much bad cholesterol. Again, your body produces it on its own — but when you add more to the mix, you’re asking for trouble. Bad cholesterol is typically found in animal-based products: meats and dairy. This is yet another reason to avoid them, and why doctors suggest sticking to a plant-based diet.
If you aim to lower your levels, you can adjust your diet accordingly. There are a number of foods that actually fight the levels of LDL in your body, helping you take back control. Read on to see seven of them.
Load up on the steel-cut oats if you plan to put your cholesterol levels in the crosshairs. The key ingredient in oatmeal is the soluble fiber, which is known to reduce bad cholesterol levels. Oatmeal is delicious, but can require some preparation. Also, if you load it up with too many trimmings — sugars, mostly — you can lose some of the overall nutritional benefit.
Fish is loaded with all kinds of healthy stuff, and it’s also heavy on fats. So how can that help you? Fish is heavy with the good types of fat — Omega-3 — which actually helps your body break down and do away with cholesterol buildup. Your body doesn’t produce Omega-3 on its own, and fish is a great source of it. You can even replace other dietary staples like beef with fish as a much healthier alternative.
Put down the potato chips or chicken wings and snack on some peanuts or almonds instead. Nuts are high in unsaturated fat, the same types of fats found in fish. Again, these fats help your body break down and lower the levels of unhealthy cholesterol in your cells. Some nuts are better than others, but if you’re craving a salty snack, you’re much better off reaching for some nuts over almost anything else.
They’re not merely the musical fruit, beans are also cholesterol killers. And it all comes down to what makes beans so “musical” — namely, the amount of soluble fiber. That fiber keeps your digestion moving, and helps move cholesterol out of your system. They’re also pretty cheap. So, if you’re on a diet and on a budget, beans should become your new best friend.
5. Leafy greens
You should be eating plenty of greens as it is, but if you’re serious about lowering your cholesterol, you need to focus on eating as much as you can — specifically, foods like spinach, kale, and lettuce. Greens deliver big amounts of vitamins and minerals, and also hit you with a good dose of fiber, which we know helps take down cholesterol levels.
Avocados are an odd food, and one that some people simply can’t stand. But they’re quite nutritious, and can offer up a good serving of healthy vitamins, minerals, and fats. The main ingredients present in the avocado that help battle cholesterol are the healthy, unsaturated fats — though there are other things at work as well.
You need something to wash all of these foods down with, right? Well, stow the milk and cream-heavy coffees, and stick to tea instead. Teas contain certain phytochemical antioxidants that help your body lower bad cholesterol levels. Tea is also an incredibly versatile beverage. Drink it hot, drink it iced, and add almost anything you want.