Heart diseases have become quite common these days. High cholesterol level is one of the contributing factors to heart disease. Most of us have this misconception that cholesterol is harmful for health. It should be kept in mind that cholesterol is a kind of fat or lipid produced in the liver and some amount of it is essential for proper functioning of the body. Cholesterol can be categorized into two types, namely:
- High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol or “good cholesterol”
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or “bad cholesterol”
Now, you might have got an idea as to which type of cholesterol poses adverse effects to your health. It is evident that high levels of LDL cholesterol can block your arteries, causing heart diseases. Similarly, it is extremely important to get the desired level of HDL cholesterol (above 60 mg/day) as it rids your body of excess levels of bad cholesterol by transporting it from the blood vessels to the liver from where it is excreted and eliminated. Thus, even low levels of HDL cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease.
16 Low Cholesterol Foods:
It is important to minimize the levels of bad LDL cholesterol to reduce the risk of heart disease and other adverse health effects. The best way to do so is to consume low-cholesterol foods, i.e. the foods that lower the levels of bad cholesterol. Most of the low-cholesterol foods come from vegetarian sources comprising of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Given below are a few foods that are cholesterol free or low in cholesterol and hence, can form part of a low cholesterol diet.
Consuming nuts is probably one of the best ways to bring your cholesterol levels under control. Several studies have proved that the consumption of about a handful of nuts like peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts can increase HDL cholesterol, thus minimizing the risk of heart disease. They are also rich in other nutrients like vitamin E, copper, magnesium and phytochemicals. Walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids which help to keep the blood vessels healthy. You can prepare a trail mix of all kinds of chopped nuts and sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons on your salads, yogurt, desserts, pilafs or cereal. However, nuts are also high in calories, so they should be consumed in moderation. It is advisable to consume 2 tablespoons of chopped nuts 5 times a week or a handful of nuts as snacks 3 to 4 times a week.
One of the healthiest breakfast cereals, oats are rich in soluble fiber, which reduces bad LDL cholesterol. This is because the soluble fiber in oats reduces the absorption of LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream. Consumption of 5 to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber in a day decreases your total and LDL cholesterol. Just 1 ½ grams of cooked oatmeal can provide you with 6 grams of fiber. For more fiber and other nutrients, you can add fruits like bananas and strawberries. So kick start your day with a bowl of piping hot oatmeal!
Garlic is renowned for its health benefits which can be attributed to its high levels of sulphur containing antioxidants. It is an ancient herb used for treating several health issues. It also plays an important role in managing cholesterol levels. Research conducted by the Bastyr College in Seattle proved that consumption of 3 fresh cloves of garlic a day for a month led to an increase in good cholesterol (HDL) levels by23%. Other benefits of garlic include prevention of blood clots, controlling blood pressure and protection against infections. In fact, research has observed that garlic is effective in preventing artery clogging plaque called nanoplaque at its earliest stage. Thus, those battling with high cholesterol levels should incorporate garlic in their diet for better results. You can add chopped garlic to your pizzas, soups or side dishes. Garlic paste is often used in soups and stews.
Fish is the only non-vegetarian food that helps minimize high cholesterol levels. Consumption of fish twice to thrice a week can lower your LDL cholesterol in two ways. Firstly, it is a good substitute for meat which contains LDL-boosting saturated fats. Secondly, all kinds of fatty fish like mackerel, trout, herring, tuna, salmon, sardines, halibut etc have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which lower LDL cholesterol. Omega-3s prevent the onset of abnormal heart rhythms by reducing the amount of triglycerides in the bloodstream. They also control blood pressure and lower the risk of developing blood clots. Fish oil is also a great source of Omega-3s and is often recommended for those who have already suffered a heart attack.
Apart from being a valuable source of protein, soy and soy products like tofu, soy flour and soy milk are powerful foods to reduce cholesterol levels. Soy and soy foods contain compounds called isoflavones, which work to reduce LDL cholesterol. Studies have shown that consumption of 15 grams of soy protein can lower your LDL cholesterol by 5% to 6%. Soy is a great alternative to meat products which are loaded with unhealthy saturated fat. You can use crumbled soy instead of ground meat in soups, lasagna and casseroles. Tofu can also be used in a variety of recipes. For greater benefits, it is advisable to consume the whole soybean which is rich in protein, isoflavone and phytates that work together to minimize cholesterol levels.
Beans are one of the richest sources of fiber, particularly the cholesterol lowering soluble fiber. This soluble fiber forms a gel in water that binds acids and cholesterol in the intestinal tract, thus preventing their absorption. You have a wide variety of beans to choose from- pinto, black, chickpea, kidney, navy, black eyed, garbanzos and butter beans. Consumption of a cup of any type of beans in a day can lower cholesterol by around 10% in just 6 weeks. Beans can be used in several recipes like salads and stuffed baked potatoes, or pureed for sandwich spreads. Canned beans are also available, but they should be rinsed properly before using as they are packed with high sodium liquid. For greater health benefits, eat beans at least 5 times in a week.
7. Barley and Other Whole Grains:
Apart from oats, barley and other whole grains are also rich in soluble fiber that helps lower the risk of heart disease by minimizing cholesterol levels.
8. Dark Chocolate:
Perhaps one of the most delicious foods, dark chocolate is also effective in minimizing cholesterol levels. It contains thrice the amount of antioxidants contained in milk chocolate. These flavonoid antioxidants prevent blood vessels from sticking together and keep your arteries unclogged. The flavonoid content of dark chocolate depends upon the way of handling and processing it. The polyphenols in dark chocolate improve lipid profile in individuals with high cholesterol levels. Research has also proved that consumption of dark chocolates led to an increase in HDL cholesterol levels by 13.7%. It prevents the oxidation of bad cholesterol. The various health benefits of dark chocolate make it a healthy choice for satisfying your sweet tooth without loading your body with unwanted calories. All you need to do is consume an ounce of dark chocolate in a day. White chocolate should be avoided as it contains no flavonoids at all.
These delicious fruits are rich in polyphenolic compounds. Research has proved that consumption of the low calorie cranberry juice helps in improving HDL cholesterol concentrations. So give up those sugary beverages and sip a glass of healthy cranberry juice for regulation of cholesterol levels!
We all are aware of the harmful effects of alcohol when consumed in excess. But moderate consumption of alcohol can be beneficial in many ways. Surprised? Well, research has observed a significant increase in HDL cholesterol levels in patients who consumed about 250 ml of red wine every day for 15 days. Thus, if you have high cholesterol levels, you need not give up alcohol entirely. You only need to restrict the consumption of wine for better results.
Certain fruits like strawberries, apples, grapes and citrus fruits are rich in pectin, a soluble fibre that helps in lowering LDL cholesterol. Fruits also contain several vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which help in maintaining overall health. So incorporate loads of fruits in your diet. You can consume them whole, add them to fruit salads and desserts or blend them into smoothies.
12. Vegetable Oils:
Certain vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower and canola oils are beneficial for your heart as they help in lowering LDL cholesterol levels. Thus, they are a healthy option to replace butter or lard for cooking purposes.
Talk of any health benefit and spinach has it! This heart healthy veggie is loaded with lutein, the sunshine vitamin prevalent in dark green leafy vegetables and egg yolks. Lutein is vital for healthy eyes as it prevents the occurrence of age related macular degeneration, which is responsible for causing blindness. Research has proved that consuming at least half a cup of lutein rich food daily helps the artery walls ward off cholesterol invaders that cause clogging, thus preventing heart attacks. But the taste of spinach often becomes a reason for not consuming this healthy vegetable. Well, its taste can be improved with your way of cooking. You can bake some baby spinach leaves and use some parmesan and toasted sunflower seeds as toppings. You can also add spinach leaves to green salads and sandwiches for a boost in heart healthy nutrients.
Margarine is increasingly becoming popular as a spread for bread in place of butter. Two margarines that help to lower your cholesterol numbers are – Take Control and Benecol. They block the absorption of cholesterol contained in your food and bile. Take Control comprises of plant sterols which have proven to reduce both total and LDL cholesterol levels by up to 14%. The plant stanols in Benecol perform the same functions. According to a study, 1-2 servings of Take Control dropped total cholesterol by 6% to 8% and LDL cholesterol by 7% to 10%. Similarly 3 servings of Benecol dropped total blood and LDL cholesterol by 10% and 14% respectively. However, margarine reduces the absorption of beta-carotene. So it is advisable to consume increased amounts of carrots, sweet red peppers, sweet potatoes and spinach to obtain the recommended amount of beta-carotene.
The cholesterol lowering qualities of avocados can be attributed to their high content of heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, which help to raise the levels of “good” HDL cholesterol as well as lower the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. Besides, they are exclusively high in beta-sitosterol, a plant based fat that reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food. This amazing combo of monounsaturated fat and beta-sitosterol makes avocado an excellent low cholesterol food. The American Heart Association recommends the daily intake of up to 15% of your calories from monounsaturated fats and avocados are, indeed, a great option to fulfil that requirement. Avocados are also high in calories (300 calories and 0.3 grams fat per fruit) so they should be used in place of high fat foods or condiments.
This universal drink is packed with antioxidant compounds. Studies have shown that consumption of tea helps to keep the blood vessels relaxed and prevents blood clots. Flavonoids are the main antioxidants in tea, which stop the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thus preventing plaque formation on artery walls. These antioxidants also help to reduce cholesterol and control blood pressure levels. You can have hot or iced tea. Homemade ice teas should be preferred to convenience iced teas as they have more antioxidants. Both green and black teas are known for their high levels of antioxidants. It is not difficult to incorporate tea in your diet. Those having high cholesterol levels should make it a point to have at least one cup of tea in a day.
Thus, if high cholesterol level is a cause of your concern, go ahead and make these foods a part of your diet. However, it should be noted that diet is not the sole way to minimize cholesterol levels. Regular exercise plays an equally important role in regulating your cholesterol levels. All in all, one should adopt a healthy lifestyle.
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