If you’ve recently been told by your doctor that you have high cholesterol, or you’re simply trying to keep your levels in check from a preventive standpoint, you’re in good company. Lowering your cholesterol helps keep your blood pressure in a healthy range and reduces your risk for a myriad of conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.
It’s important to note that healthy cholesterol levels vary by age and sex. “For example, if you’re 19 or younger, a total cholesterol level of less than 170mg/dl is considered normal. But, as we age, that number goes up,” explains Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition and wellness expert and author of Eating in Color. “For men or women 20 and older, a total cholesterol of less than 200mg/dl is considered to be normal, borderline high is 200-239, and high is 240 and above.”
Though cholesterol is made up of two levels—your HDL (good) and your LDL (bad), the most important one to keep track of is your HDL, as a number less than 40mg/dl is a risk factor for heart disease, according to Largeman-Roth.
There are medicines that you can take to help lower your cholesterol. However, you can also attempt to keep levels in check by monitoring what you eat and maintaining your exercise regimen on Aaptiv. Here are some of the best cholesterol-lowering foods out there that you should pile on your plate this summer.
One of the key-playing nutrients in lowering cholesterol levels is fiber—and oats have plenty of it! “Oats contain soluble fibers that form gels and are easily digested by bacteria in the colon, becoming fermentable,” explains Roger E. Adams, PhD, personal trainer, doctor of nutrition, and owner of eatrightfitness. “These foods lower cholesterol by binding with bile acids in the gastrointestinal tract and thus protecting against heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels.”
Summer stone fruits, such as peaches and plums, are another good source of soluble fiber. “Similar to other fiber-rich foods, they can help sop up extra cholesterol from the digestive tract and remove it from circulation,” says Suzanne Dixon, registered dietitian with The Mesothelioma Center in Orlando, Florida. She recommends combining your fruit with plain oatmeal to get even more cholesterol-lowering bang for your buck.
Also a great source of fiber, flaxseeds are high in lignans. These are complex carbohydrates that work like estrogen in the body and help to lower cholesterol, explains Largeman-Roth. She recommends adding flaxseeds to your daily diet by sprinkling them over cereal, yogurt, and salads, as well as throwing them into any baked goods that you’re making.
Nuts are wonderful heart-healthy foods. Plus, many of them, especially almonds and pecans, can be beneficial for lowering your cholesterol levels. “One study that found that, when eaten daily, almonds helped lowered LDL by seven percent,” says Largeman-Roth. “Another study found that a diet with pecans helped lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, and increased HDL cholesterol.” Both almonds and pecans can be enjoyed several times a week in salads, cereal, tacos, and grain dishes, she suggests.
This protein-powerful type of soybean is a pro at helping lower cholesterol levels. They’re also rich in a myriad of other nutrients, including fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin K. “Edamame are delicious in a cold summer salad, like a cold soba salad with sesame seeds (yum!) and are tasty for snacking on their own,” says Largeman-Roth. “You can enjoy them a few times a week.”
Another wonderful salad ingredient, olives contain healthy fats that help lower total cholesterol levels, as well as improve your HDL to LDL ratio, according to Largeman-Roth. She recommends enjoying them daily (just watch the sodium) in summer dishes like salads, appetizers, pizza, and wraps.
Seasonal Cold-Water Fish
Cold-water fish are a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids. While Omega-3s won’t lower your LDL, Dixon, explains that they can raise your blood levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol. “A higher HDL can protect against some of the damaging effects of too much LDL,” she says. “Total cholesterol is important, but your total cholesterol to HDL ratio also plays a role in overall heart disease risk.”
In addition to eating a nutritious diet, exercise also plays a role in lowering your cholesterol levels. Even 30 minutes of moderate activity, five times per week helps to raise your healthy HDL cholesterol, according to Largeman-Roth.
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