So, what exactly is cholesterol? Well, cholesterol is a type of lipid (fat) in your blood. Contrary to popular belief, some degree of cholesterol is needed for bodily functions. Although your body produces cholesterol, you can also obtain cholesterol from foods. What is high cholesterol? Well, high cholesterol occurs when fatty deposits (plaques) accumulate in your arteries (arteries are blood vessels that transport blood from your heart to your other organs, tissues, and cells). This condition is called atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”). It is important to note that atherosclerosis usually worsens over time. To better understand how people develop high cholesterol, think of a clogged kitchen garbage disposal.
If you continuously place fatty, greasy foods into a garbage disposal, there is a good chance that it will eventually get clogged up, and stop working. The same thing happens to your arteries when you eat a lot of fatty, greasy foods. These foods cause fat deposits (plaques) to build up in your arteries, narrowing them, and making it harder for blood to pass through them. When this occurs, your other organs, tissues, and cells also suffer because they do not receive the blood flow that they need to thrive. When your heart does not receive the proper amount of blood, it can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Cholesterol is normally measured by a test. High cholesterol (LDL) is 240 or higher, borderline-high cholesterol is 200 – 239, and healthy cholesterol is under 200 (WebMD, 2014).
What are the different types of cholesterol? Well, there are (3) types of cholesterol: Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides. LDL cholesterol is the considered “bad” and unhealthy. This type of cholesterol can clog your arteries, and affect your health, especially if you consume or produce too much of it. If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, your LDL level is most likely high. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is considered “good” and healthy. This type of cholesterol helps remove fatty deposits from your blood. You want your HDL cholesterol level to be high. In fact, a high HDL level lowers your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
Lastly, triglycerides are also considered “bad” and unhealthy, in large amounts. When you have a high triglyceride level, you have a significant amount of fat in your blood. It is important to note that if you have a high LDL level, and a high triglyceride level, your risk of heart disease, strokes, and/or heart attacks is elevated. High cholesterol is usually treated with high cholesterol medications, and lifestyle chances (i.e. healthier foods, and regular exercise). Thankfully, there are a variety of healthy foods that will not only lower your LDL and triglyceride levels, but also boost your HDL cholesterol level. If you are wondering what foods can improve your cholesterol, you have come to the right place. This article will suggest healthy foods that can improve your unhealthy cholesterol levels, and increase your healthy one.
Foods that can lower your unhealthy cholesterol levels (LDL and triglycerides), and increase your healthy one (HDL):
Fatty fish (fish that contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids) can lower your blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol levels, and reduce your risk of developing blood clots, and fatal heart attacks. The following fatty fish have the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids: herring, mackerel, lake trout, salmon, halibut, sardines, and albacore tuna. Lower your cholesterol (LDL and triglycerides) by increasing your fatty fish consumption to 6oz. servings twice a week (WebMD, 2014).
Walnuts and almonds can reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels (LDL and triglycerides) and elevate your healthy cholesterol level (HDL). These nuts contain the highest amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Moreover, walnuts support blood vessel health. Consume a handful (i.e. 1.5 ounces) daily. Other nuts that can remove “bad” cholesterol from your body include: pistachio nuts, pine nuts, peanuts, pecans, and hazelnuts. Nuts can also reduce your risk of heart attacks, heart disease, and strokes. Avoid nuts that are salty or sweet.
Oatmeal can also improve your cholesterol levels. Why? Well, oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which can reduce your LDL level. If you are not fond of oatmeal, you can also find soluble fiber in apples, pears, prunes, barley, and kidney beans. Soluble fiber is extremely beneficial because it reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed into your bloodstream. Consume ½ cup of oatmeal or 5-10 grams of soluble fiber to reduce your LDL cholesterol level.
Mayo Clinic. (2014). Cholesterol: Top 5 foods to lower your numbers. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/cholesterol/ART-20045192
WebMD. (2014). High cholesterol – Overview. Retrieved http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/tc/high-cholesterol-overview
WebMD. (2014). The new low-cholesterol diet: Fatty fish. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/features/low-cholesterol-diet-fatty-fish?page=2