Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is in every cell in your body and is needed to make essential molecules like hormones, fat-soluble vitamins and bile acids that help you digest food. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs, but it also obtains it from foods from animal sources like egg yolks, meat and cheese. Different types of cholesterol have different purposes, with HDL being the “good” kind that helps remove cholesterol from your body and back to your liver, while LDL is the “bad” cholesterol that can lead to plaque building up in your body and increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. When you want to improve your cholesterol numbers, focus on a lifestyle that will raise HDL and lower LDL.
What you eat can have a significant effect on your cholesterol levels and you should eat more of the following:
Fiber – Soluble fiber binds itself to cholesterol and keeps it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Great sources of fiber include:
- Beans, like black, lima and kidney
- Oatmeal – high in cholesterol-lowering beta glucan, and barley is also
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
Healthy Fats – Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated fats as well as polyunsaturated (Omega-3s and Omega-6s). They help reduce your risk of heart disease in a number of ways by helping lower LDL and triglycerides while increasing HDL. They also lower heart rate and improve heart rhythm while also improving blood vessel function and delaying plaque buildup in coronary arteries. Include the following healthy fat sources in your diet:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Raw nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds
- Wild fatty fish like tuna, sardines, salmon and mackerel
Cruciferous Vegetables – Not only are they high in fiber, they are also rich in phytochemicals called glucosinolates and other compounds which significantly reduce LDL. They have the ability to find to the bile which is produced by the liver to digest and absorb fats. The bile is then excreted by the body so that more of the body’s cholesterol has to be used to replace the bile, resulting in lowered cholesterol. Among the many cruciferous vegetables are:
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard Greens
In addition to adding the right types of foods, you should reduce consumption of saturated fats from animal products like red meat and dairy, as well as staying away completely from trans fats (anything labeled partially hydrogenated). Shed excess weight which raises LDL and exercise regularly, because a lack of physical activity lowers your HDL, and don’t smoke, which raises your LDL.