Check out these 10 foods that will help lower your cholesterol levels, and keep your heart healthy.
When it comes to general health nowadays, there is a basic triumvirate of factors that most people are familiar with: weight, glucose or sugar, and cholesterol.
They are all related in one way or the other, of course, but each is also a star in measuring unhealthiness in its own right.
With the advent of commercial medical laboratories providing personalised blood tests direct to the public, anyone with the cash to spare can get their glucose and cholesterol levels tested with a prick of a needle.
Although it doesn’t usually come with a medical professional’s advice, most people are satisfied just to check if their levels fall within the normal ranges provided.
But what to do if they don’t?
Before starting on statins – those cholesterol-lowering wonder drugs that doctors prescribe – why not try a non-pharmaceutical method like modifying your diet first?
Here is a list of the top 10 cholesterol-lowering foods, as recommended by Pantai Cheras Hospital, Kuala Lumpur, dietitian Ang Bee Xian:
Oatmeal and oat bran
These two items are probably the best-known celebrities of cholesterol-lowering foods, and rightfully so.
Oatmeal and oat bran are filled with soluble fibre, whose main function is to help absorb cholesterol from what you eat and bring it along out of your body when it gets passed out.
Eating 1½ cups of cooked oatmeal provides 6g of soluble fibre, which falls within the range of 5-10g necessary per day to decrease total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad”, cholesterol.
A well-known protein source for vegetarians, soy helps lower cholesterol in two ways: by providing an alternative to meats, which contain more saturated fat, and by helping to lower LDL cholesterol.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends taking at least 25g of soy protein daily, as part of a cholesterol-lowering diet.
Examples of soy foods are tofu, soymilk, edamame, miso and tempeh.
A wholegrain sibling to oatmeal, barley is a lesser known cholesterol-lowering food star.
Also containing lots of the soluble fibre called beta-glucan, barley can help lower total and LDL cholesterol, as well as trigylcerides.
Eating fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, two or three times a week, provides you with enough omega-3 fatty acids to help lower your triglyceride levels.
Try not to fry them though – the extra oil will do your cholesterol level no favours; instead, cook them using healthier methods like grilling or baking.
Probably not as well-known as wholegrains, beans are also an excellent source of soluble fibre.
In addition, they take longer to digest, meaning that you will feel full for longer after eating them, thus, reducing the temptation to snack between meals.
If you really crave a snack, then why not help lower your LDL cholesterol at the same time with some nuts?
A handful (around 42.5g) of plain almonds, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts or other types of nuts, a day can not only lower LDL cholesterol by about 5%, but also provide other heart-healthy nutrients.
However, they are also high in calories, so a handful around three to four times a week should be your limit.
Although it would be best to minimise using oil at all, the type you should use, if needed, are liquid vegetable oils.
Oils like olive, canola, sunflower and corn, are a better alternative than butter, lard or shortening, as they contain phytosterols that help block the body from absorbing dietary cholesterol.
Plant sterols and stanols
In addition to using vegetable oils, it is also recommended to take foods specifically fortified with phytosterols, also known as plant sterol and stanol esters.
Examples include margarines, yoghurt drinks, milk and orange juice. Check the food labels for phytosterol content.
About 2g of phytosterols a day can lower LDL cholesterol by about 10%.
Fruits rich in pectin
Apples, prunes, blackberries and citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits are all examples of fruits rich in pectin, which is a type of soluble fibre that helps lower LDL cholesterol.
Avocados are full of monounsaturated fats that help lower LDL cholesterol, while at the same time, increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol.
It also contains fibre and a chemical called beta-sitosterol, which helps reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food.
But it is also high in calories, so don’t overdose on them. One whole avocado is enough to fulfil your entire daily quota of monounsaturated fat for a regular 1,800-calorie diet, according to the American Heart Association.