With over 2.6 million people dying from raised cholesterol levels annually, it’s no surprise that many shudder at the sight of high-cholesterol foods. In reality, experts say that this food fear is mostly unfounded. To clear the myths, let’s start with two truths: (1) high-cholesterol foods often have very little to do with raising your blood cholesterol (2) good-cholesterol foods can lower your blood cholesterol.
If you’re scared of clogged arteries and heart attacks, leave everything you know about high-cholesterol foods at the door and do us a favor. Add these nutrient-packed munchies to your plate whenever possible – your heart will thank you for it!
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is an organic lipid naturally produced by our liver or ingested by eating several animal products. Lipids’ primary function is to help our body generate hormones, cell membranes, and vitamin D. However, too much blood cholesterol can increase our risk of heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.
The two types of cholesterol are LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein).
- LDL is often called “bad” cholesterol. It can build up in the arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke.
- HDL is often called the “good” cholesterol. It transports bad cholesterol back to the liver, where it can be processed as waste.
Do High-Cholesterol Foods Cause High Blood Cholesterol?
The answer is much more complicated.
For one, the liver is a highly adaptable organ. When you add lots of cholesterol to your diet, your liver adjusts and makes less of it. This is not to say that high-cholesterol foods aren’t culprits for causing high blood cholesterol. Often, high-cholesterol foods are rich in saturated fats, and saturated fats are the real baddies that cause our blood cholesterol levels to spike.
Another way that makes the body-cholesterol relationship so complicated is that everyone reacts differently to dietary cholesterol. Some people, especially those with a high risk of heart disease, are more vulnerable to cholesterol-rich diets.
For the vast majority of the population, however, high-cholesterol foods only have a small influence on their blood cholesterol. It’s the person’s genetic makeup that dictates their blood cholesterol levels. While a high-cholesterol diet will unlikely play a part in giving you high cholesterol, “good cholesterol foods” can keep it in check.
Good Cholesterol Foods To Add to Your Diet
When we say good cholesterol food, we don’t mean food rich in HDL. What makes a good cholesterol food “good” is its bad cholesterol-lowering components like fiber, polyunsaturated fats, sterols, and stanols. Consider adding these items to your plate if you’re trying to keep your cholesterol in check.
1. High-Fiber Fruit
Apples, prunes, and pears are great in lowering your cholesterol levels thanks to their high fiber content. Fiber grabs onto cholesterol in the small intestine, preventing the body from absorbing it. It also slows down digestion and how fast your blood sugar rises.
Besides being high in fiber and incredibly delicious on toast, avocado is rich in monounsaturated fats, which help reduce your LDL cholesterol.
2. Fatty Fish
While many think fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel will cause their cholesterol levels to spike, the unsaturated fats in these meats can lower your LDL levels. Thanks to its high-protein content and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is also one of the healthiest foods for pregnant women.
3. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are packed with soluble fiber, which lowers LDL cholesterol and reduces the amount of bile salts in the intestine. In effect, the body uses its cholesterol stores to make more bile salts. Adding beans to your diet is also a great way to obtain B vitamins which keep the heart healthy.
4. Whole Grains
Lower your LDL cholesterol levels by switching out your carbs for healthier alternatives. Whole-grain bread, pasta, quinoa, brown rice, or barley contain fiber and vitamins to help balance LDL and HDL cholesterol.
Of all the foods we included in this list, wine would be the most surprising. How can something with alcohol be good for the health? Wine is rich in antioxidants like proanthocyanidins and resveratrol – two compounds that have been researched to boost HDL and lower LDL.
Blueberries and raspberries are great for people watching their cholesterol, thanks to their fiber and antioxidant content. Snack on them to satiate your sweet tooth, or add them to yogurt or cereal to help keep your LDL levels low and your heart healthy.
7. Nuts and Seeds
Don’t be afraid to go nuts on nuts for balanced cholesterol levels and a healthy heart. Nuts are rich in fiber and unsaturated fats that can help lower your LDL levels. In addition, chia seeds and flaxseeds offer omega-3 fatty acids to help boost HDL.
8. Olive Oil
LDL cholesterol can wreak havoc on the body and cause inflammation. To combat this, try switching your cooking oil to olive oil. Olive oil contains oleic acid and elenolide which experts believe boosts HDL cholesterol, lowers high blood pressure, and reduces the risk of heart disease.