High cholesterol levels are usually associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating more foods that lower cholesterol is a great place to start. There are steps you can take to help lower bad cholesterol naturally before it gets to that point or to expedite your recovery if your condition gets worse.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a form of fat. The cells in your body actually need cholesterol to function properly, making it an essential fat. There are two different types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL.
HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein, also known as healthy cholesterol (think H for healthy). LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein, and this is the bad cholesterol that you should be concerned about (think L for lethal). There’s good news though: the ratio of HDL to LDL is more important than the numbers themselves (1).
LDL cholesterol is what causes the build up of fat in your arteries, which can cause heart attacks if the arteries get closed off or blocked. They can also lead to strokes, muscle death, and/or heart disease.
HDL cholesterol functions by cleaning up LDL cholesterol throughout the body. The bad cholesterol is then deposited into the liver, where it is broken down and cleared through the body’s waste (2).
How Do I Find Out if I Have High Cholesterol?
Your doctor will take a sample of your blood and run it through a lipid profile test. These tests are usually a standard part of an annual wellness exam (physical) after the age of 40, but you can get tested earlier if you show certain risk factors (3).
While there are target numbers considered healthy for the general population, as long as you have enough HDL cholesterol to keep the LDL cholesterol in check, your risk of heart disease will remain small. When the ratio gets skewed in the wrong direction, you’ll start running into problems.
General cholesterol guidelines:
- Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL
- HDL: Greater than 40 mg/dL for men; Greater than 60 mg/dL for women
- LDL: Less than 100 mg/dL
What are the factors that increase my risk of high cholesterol and heart disease?
- Being of South Asian Ancestry
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Inactive lifestyle
- Family history of heart disease
- Family history of high cholesterol (immediate family only)
- Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30+
- Tobacco usage
- A diet high in full-fat dairy products, saturated fats, and red meat
As always, remember that genetics may load the gun, but diet and behavior pull the trigger (so to speak).
Now it’s time to get into the actionable items: How to lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease, naturally. You can significantly lower your LDL and raise your HDL levels with some relatively simple – but consistent – changes.
The Importance of Exercise
Before we get into dietary recommendations, one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental well-being is regular exercise.
Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, reduces body fat levels, improves heart health and function, fights inflammation, and helps improve glucose tolerance. It also has the added effect of significantly reducing both LDL and total cholesterol levels as well as maintaining arterial flexibility (7,8).
When you exercise, cholesterol is actually forced to move around the body with increased blood flow. This prevents cholesterol from sticking to vessel walls and removes existing cholesterol that has built up. The cholesterol is then filtered through the liver into your body’s waste.
For best results, engage in 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily. Try to vary your exercise with weight training, running, jogging, swimming, dancing, aerobics, and/or group classes.
7 Foods that Lower Cholesterol
Here are the top foods that lower cholesterol you should be eating every day to prevent high blood pressure and heart disease.
Garlic is proven to help prevent LDL cholesterol from sticking to the walls of blood vessels (9). It also prevents your liver from creating extra cholesterol (10). This not only helps prevent heart attacks, ut blood clots as well. Ensuring less effort to push blood through your veins and arteries results in lower blood pressure as well.
Recommended dosage: Consume 2-4 raw garlic cloves daily. Alternatively, incorporate 5-7 cloves of garlic into your meals throughout the day. You may also try garlic supplements.
Oatmeal is a wonderful source of soluble dietary fiber. The distinction between soluble and insoluble fiber is an important one, since soluble fiber helps to lower LDL levels by binding to cholesterol in the digestive tract and preventing its absorption (11). On the other hand, non-soluble fiber helps push food waste out of your digestive tract (12).
Other soluble fiber-rich foods include barley, flaxseeds, Brussels sprouts, beans, prunes, apples, carrots, pears, and avocados.
Recommended dosage: Consume 1-2 servings of cooked oatmeal each day. Add fresh fruit and/or nuts if preferred.
This powerful, sweet spice has been found to reduce cholesterol levels by 2-16 percent in people with type 2 diabetes (13). Cinnamon is also a wonderful aid to stabilize blood sugar. Other beneficial spices include turmeric, black pepper, and ginger.
Recommended dosage: make sure not to take more than ½ -1 teaspoon of cinnamon daily.
Coriander is the seed form of the cilantro plant. This wonderful aromatic seasoning helps lower LDL levels while increasing HDL levels to help stabilize your cholesterol ratio (14). It can be utilized in both whole or powder form, and it a popular ingredient in curries and salsas.
Recommended dosage: Incorporate coriander into your cooking. You can also make a simple coriander tea by boiling and simmering whole coriander seeds and cilantro leaves in water.
5. Red Yeast Rice
A popular Chinese medicine, red yeast rice is made by fermenting a specific type of yeast over red rice. Red yeast rice contains a chemical that has similar effects to statin medications, lowering LDL cholesterol levels. It actually contains natural lovastatin, the active ingredient in the prescription drug Mevacor (15).
Recommended dosage: 600mg of red yeast rice in tablet or capsule form 2-4 times daily. Red yeast rice is not recommended for anyone under 20 years of age, anyone with liver or kidney problems, or pregnant/breastfeeding women (16).
Recommended dosage: For best results, consume raw onion in your daily diet. Onion juice (in the form of a tonic with honey) and/or quercetin supplements are also viable options.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar
ACV is like the Swiss Army Knife of holistic medicinal remedies – it has so many benefits that even if you don’t have high cholesterol, you should incorporate it into your diet anyway (unless you’re on these medications ).
ACV is proven to lower both LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure in animal trials by fighting oxidative stress and lipid oxidation (18).Recommended dosage: Drink 1-2 tablespoons of ACV daily, mixed with water or tea.
In addition to the recommendations above, here are some more tips to encourage healthy cholesterol levels and overall wellbeing:
- Avoid trains fats whenever possible (think greasy or fried foods)
- Consume a handful of nuts every day
- Stick to lean meats, fishes, and vegetable proteins
- Try to consume healthy fatty fish and/or fish oil on a regular basis to boost HDL
- Enjoy alcohol in moderation
Now that you know how to naturally balance your cholesterol levels, your liver and cardiovascular system will keep your body in optimal shape. Plus, these foods that lower cholesterol benefit other parts of your body too.