Nowadays, having high cholesterol is common among us and is referred to as a modern-day lifestyle disease. While high cholesterol can be inherited, it is often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices and can be prevented or managed. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help reduce cholesterol. You’ll need to avoid foods that are high in bad cholesterol and consume those that can help lower cholesterol levels. I have the lists for you. Especially you who loves eating healthy nuts. Really, do nuts lower cholesterol? Read on…
Before we get started on foods, let’s talk a bit about cholesterol.
Everyone has cholesterol and your body needs them. However, you don’t have to eat cholesterol because your body makes all the cholesterol it needs.
The problem of high cholesterol arises because your body also absorbs cholesterol from certain foods, such as full-fat dairy products, shellfish and fatty meats.
It is the liver that makes all the cholesterol, a waxy substance that helps your body make cell membranes, certain hormones and Vitamin D.
Cholesterol and other fats are carried in your bloodstream, bundled up in packets called lipoproteins.
The two major forms of lipoproteins are
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) carry cholesterol to the tissues. This “bad”, unhealthy cholesterol can build up in your arteries and form fatty deposits called plaques. High LDL levels are linked to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) carry excess cholesterol back to the liver which processes and excretes from your body. This is the “good” healthy cholesterol you want in order to lower the risk of developing heart disease.
What is the healthy level of cholesterol?
The danger of developing high cholesterol is you wouldn’t know if your cholesterol level is high because there are no symptoms. In most cases, emergency events such as heart attack and stroke are the results of damage caused by high cholesterol. A blood test is the only way to detect if you have it.
Generally, men tend to have higher levels of cholesterol throughout life than women. Men’s cholesterol levels normally increase as they age and women’s cholesterol often increases when going through menopause.
The National Health, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends young adults screen for cholesterol every 5 years. Men ages 45 to 65 and women ages 55 to 65 should be screened every 1 to 2 years while those older than 65 screened annually.
Since high cholesterol can be inherited, you may need more frequent screenings if you have a family history of cholesterol problems or heart attacks, especially those of your parents or grandparents.
High cholesterol is diagnosed with a blood test called a lipid panel. A lipid panel measures your total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
What are triglycerides? Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood and your body uses them for energy. However, too high a triglycerides may raise your risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and the healthy level of cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is
- Total cholesterol → less than 200mg/dL
- LDL “bad” cholesterol → less than 100mg/dL
- HDL “good” cholesterol → greater than or equal to 60mg/dL
- Triglycerides → less than 150mg/dL
Now you know what figures to aim for, let’s continue on with food.
Best Nuts to Lower Cholesterol
Generally, nuts are known to be nutritious and often consumed as snack food. They contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats and fibre which can help keep your cholesterol in check.
So, what nuts are good to lower cholesterol?
Walnuts are a very popular nut and have many health benefits. One of them is lowering cholesterol levels.
A meta-analysis consists of thirteen studies representing 365 participants concluded with a significant decrease in total cholesterol and in LDL cholesterol for those who had a walnuts diet compared with those on control diets. However, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides were not significantly affected.
From the same meta-analysis, other results indicated that walnut provided significant benefits for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
A study revealed healthy adults eating a walnut-rich meal prevented oxidative damage of “bad” LDL cholesterol. That’s important because oxidized LDL can cause atherosclerosis – a buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on your artery walls. This can restrict blood flow.
Read more: What Health Benefits do Walnuts Have
If you do not like the bitter taste of walnuts, go for almonds.
Eating almonds regularly can improve your cholesterol levels. A study found almonds to have a consistent LDL cholesterol-lowering effect in healthy individuals as well as in individuals with high cholesterol. Biologically, the active components of almonds help decrease the reabsorption of cholesterol and increase its excretion.
Unlike walnuts, which are effective only in lowering LDL cholesterol without significant changes in HDL, almonds do well in both.
In research published on Science Daily, 48 men and women with elevated LDL cholesterol participated in two six-week diet periods. In both studies, their diets were the same except for the daily snack of a 43g serving of almonds while the other had a banana muffin instead. At the end of the study, the result shown the almond diet increased HDL cholesterol compared to the control diet.
Read more: Why Do Walnuts Taste Bitter
Besides almond, pistachio may also help in increasing “good” HDL cholesterol.
In this study, 15 participants with moderately high levels of cholesterol in the blood consumed 2-3 ounces (56-84g) of pistachio nuts daily over a four week period improved their lipid profiles, especially in HDL cholesterol.
Do you like cashews? I don’t particularly fancy cashews, not until I found a way to dry roast them myself. Without oil and still turned out crunchy.
Cashews have a rather impressive nutrient profile. Read more here.
In a controlled-feeding study, 51 men and women with LDL-cholesterol concentrations of 159 mg/dL consumed a cashew diet resulted in a decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Although there are no significant changes for HDL cholesterol and triglyceride, this study proves support that daily consumption of cashews helps manage total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
Hazelnuts are a good source of many nutrients and several studies supported the inclusion of the hazelnuts diet as a means of reducing cardiovascular disease risk.
Study (1) – 48 mildly hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol) participants consumed 30g of ground, sliced or whole hazelnuts for 4 weeks. Results – reduced total and LDL cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol.
Study (2) – 15 hypercholesterolemic men aged 48+/- participated in a two 4-weeks study. 1st 4-week consumed a control diet (low-fat, low-cholesterol and high-carbohydrate). 2nd 4-week consumed a hazelnut diet (40g/day). Results – reduced total and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol concentrations by 12.6%. Plus, a decrease in triglyceride.
Study (3) – 21 hypercholesterolemic volunteers participated in a three 4-weeks study. Started with a control diet 1, followed by a hazelnut-enriched diet and ended with another control diet 2. Results – total cholesterol reduced 7.8%, triglyceride reduced 7.3%; LDL-cholesterol reduced 6.17%; HDL cholesterol increased 6.07%. On top of that, oxidized LDL was significantly lower.
Pecans are rather expensive, at least from where I’m at. If it isn’t for you, consider eating pecan to manage your cholesterol levels.
A study has shown pecans can help lower levels of “bad” LDL and total cholesterol in people with normal cholesterol levels.
Another expensive nut this is. Macadamia nuts are one of the most expensive nuts due to the extremely slow harvesting process.
There are several health benefits to eating macadamia nuts, mostly heart health-related. This is because they are high in monounsaturated fats.
A study has shown a macadamia nut-rich diet lowers both total cholesterol and LDL.
If you intend to include macadamia nuts in your diet for lowering cholesterol, be mindful of the portion size. Eat moderately because they are higher in calories compared to other nuts mentioned here.
At A Glance – Calories vs Healthy Unsaturated Fats
Most nuts are suitable for a heart-healthy, cholesterol-lowering diet but certain nuts are high in calories.
Here’s a quick look at their calories content vs healthy unsaturated fats based on a one-ounce (28g) serving size.
Instead of eating a single variety, consider consuming these nuts in a mixture, as in trail mix so that you get the benefits of different levels of healthy fats while keeping tabs on the calories.
Read more: What is Trail Mix – you can build your own easily
Best Foods to Lower Cholesterol
If you’re not a fan of heart-healthy nuts, there’re some fruits, vegetables and grains that can help in lowering cholesterol. Drinks too.
Avocados are an exceptional nutrient-dense fruit. Rich in monounsaturated fats and fibre, these two are cholesterol-lowering nutrients and heart-healthy.
In a study with 45 overweight or obese participants, those who ate one avocado daily had lowered their LDL levels more than those who didn’t eat avocado.
2. Barley & Oats
Barley is a healthy grain rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Studies have shown beta-glucan, a type of soluble dietary fibre in barley as well as oats can help lower LDL cholesterol.
The research team found that beta-glucan is solubilised throughout digestion increasing the viscosity (stickiness) of the food mass and entrap bile acids and cholesterol. This limits their reabsorption and as a result, the bile acids needed for the digestion of subsequent meals have to be replaced through the synthesis of biles acids from the circulating cholesterol. This leads to a reduction in cholesterol levels. (1, 2)
Read more: Quick Oats vs Rolled Oats Which is Healthier
3. Legumes – Lentils & Soy
Legumes are a group of plant foods that include beans, lentils and peas. They are rich in protein, minerals and fibre.
Fibre can prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol into the bloodstream.
A controlled study where participants ate 130g-serving of legumes daily lowered LDL cholesterol compared to those who had not.
Separately, 39 participates who had type 2 diabetes and were overweight or had obesity participated in a small study had demonstrated the positive effects of eating lentils on cholesterol levels. After 8 weeks of eating 60g of lentil sprouts daily, HDL cholesterol levels improved, and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels decreased.
Soy products such as soy milk and soy yoghurt, and tofu are good for managing cholesterol levels.
A meta-analysis of 46 studies demonstrated soy protein decreases LDL cholesterol by approximately 3-4% in adults.
Garlic is used in almost any dishes you cook and I’m pretty sure you’re aware of its many health benefits.
Garlic contains the active compound allicin and a study showed a favourable effect in reducing blood cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose levels.
However, note that these studies involved garlic supplements. It would be difficult to eat enough garlic in your daily diet to have a noticeable effect on cholesterol levels.
Also, from several articles and studies I’ve read, the results are conflicting. There are a few concluded garlic works in lowering cholesterol levels but at the same time, a few others had conclusions garlic is ineffective.
Thus, you should not solely rely on garlic to lower your cholesterol.
5. Fatty Fish
Salmon and mackerel are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids but eating fish do NOT lower cholesterol. What? Why is it on this list, then? Well, let me explain.
If you have not known, your body cannot make omega-3 fatty acids, so you’ll have to get them from food. Although these acids won’t lower your LDL cholesterol level, they may help raise your HDL cholesterol level.
In a controlled study, participants in a fish diet had 113g per serving of salmon twice a week resulted in decreased triglyceride and increased HDL cholesterol levels compared with those on a control diet (without fish).
6. Green Tea
Green tea contains catechins, an antioxidant beneficial to health.
A study found consumption of green teas lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol but did not affect HDL cholesterol.
Now, how about a cup of green tea for you? I usually have a cuppa after lunch or dinner.
I found this green tea on Amazon US.
USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, this Yogi Green Tea is combined with lemongrass and licorice for a lightly sweet and citrusy flavour. No artificial flavours or sweeteners, and individually wrapped with compostable bags.
For my fellow Malaysians, I found this for you.
Cane’s Green Tea by Purple Cane Malaysia. Made from unfermented tea leaves harvested from the natural tea zone high up the mountain.
7. Dark Chocolate
Cocoa in dark chocolates contains flavonoids. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties which benefit your health in several ways.
In a study, participants drank a beverage containing cocoa flavanol twice a day for a month. By the end of the trial, their LDL cholesterol levels had decreased, and their HDL cholesterol levels increased.
Note: Make sure you eat or drink in moderation, as chocolate is also high in saturated fat and sugar. Choose dark chocolate that’s above 70% cocoa. Or use dark, unsweetened cocoa powder in your baking for health effects.
Read more: Chia Seeds Water – another drink that can help reduce cholesterol.
8. Fruits and Berries
So far, you have been reading about drinks and the best foods to lower cholesterol. How can we not have fruits on the list?
Fruits are an excellent addition to your daily diet for so many reasons. They are rich in soluble fibre which helps lower cholesterol levels.
Pectin, a type of soluble fibre in fruits such as apples and citrus fruits is found to help lower cholesterol by up to 10%. (1)
Another component, phytosterols, commonly known as plant sterol or plant stanols can significantly lower your LDL cholesterol. (1)
Berries as whole fruits, juices, and purified extracts have been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol, and increase HDL cholesterol in clinical studies in participants with elevated blood lipids, type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome. (1)
List of Foods High in Cholesterol You Need to Avoid
While eating foods to lower cholesterol helps, avoiding foods high in cholesterol is a good start in managing cholesterol levels.
Since cholesterol is made mainly in the liver, it’s natural for cholesterol to be found in animal products such as meat, shellfish and dairy products.
You need to understand the main concern isn’t only the cholesterol found in food but also the fat content, especially trans fat.
What are trans fats? Trans fats are solidified vegetable oils. They are artificially processed, using the hydrogenation method to produce them. Trans fats not only increase levels of bad LDL cholesterol but also lower good HDL cholesterol, making them the most harmful fats you should stay away from.
Here are a few examples of food high in trans fats
- Commercially fried foods
- Potato chips and crackers
- Packaged cakes, cookies and pastries or any bakery goods that contain shortening
- Any products that contain partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils
All said about trans fats, it is also important to avoid foods high in cholesterol in order to achieve your desirable cholesterol levels and here they are
- Fatty beef and pork
- Poultry with skin
- Organ meats including heart, liver and kidney
- Dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat milk for instance cheese and yoghurt
- Processed meat such as sausages and bacon
What About Eggs? Does Egg Cause High Cholesterol?
No, you don’t need to avoid eggs altogether. Contrary to popular belief, eggs should NOT be avoided out of fear your cholesterol levels will rise.
Although eggs are high in cholesterol, research shows that eggs don’t negatively impact cholesterol levels. On the contrary, eating whole eggs can lead to increases in heart-protective “good” HDL cholesterol.
Furthermore, research has shown that eating 1–3 eggs per day is safe for healthy people.
They are a great source of highly absorbable protein and loaded with beneficial nutrients including B vitamins, selenium and vitamin A.
In a Nutshell
If you’re a fan of healthy nuts and snack on them often, it’s good to know that nuts do lower cholesterol. The same goes to plant foods like vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains and seeds.
There is no single food that will help in lowering your cholesterol while providing a range of nutrients. It’s important to focus on the quality of your overall diet. Consume a wide variety of healthy foods such as those mentioned earlier and avoid those that are harmful to your health especially foods containing trans fat and hydrogenated oils. Read the food label on product packages!
Besides eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise can improve cholesterol and overall well-being.
Cholesterol levels tend to increase with age. It is best to take steps earlier in life to prevent dangerously high levels of cholesterol from developing as a person ages. Years of unmanaged cholesterol can be much harder to treat and not to mention, high cholesterol has no symptoms.
I hope all the information here is helpful to you.
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Before you go, tell us your experiences with cholesterol in the comments section below. Is there a particular routine that we should take note of in managing our health, especially on cholesterol? Any other foods or drinks besides the ones mentioned here we should avoid or consume more? We love to know.
Thanks for reading.
Me YourHealthy Corner – Stay in Good Health, Healthy Eating Habits
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Medical Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional, and this post should not be taken as medical advice. Please do your own research. The material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual and is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical care or advice.