Foods That Can Help Reduce Cholesterol Levels
Make these foods a bigger part of your diet to help lower cholesterol
A lot of people believe that you can reduce your cholesterol level by not eating foods that contain cholesterol (think eggs). However, it's been shown time and again that reducing the amount of cholesterol you consume has only a marginal influence on blood cholesterol levels.
That's not to say, however, that modifying your diet won't help you reduce your numbers. To the contrary—food is a great means to lower cholesterol.
I recommend getting familiar with my list of foods that everyone should eat, as well as learning which foods are acid-forming and which are alkalinizing. This type of diet is a key to good health, and following it alone should help you. For additional support, there are also specific foods that can help reduce cholesterol levels. They include:
For years people have been told to avoid eggs—especially the high-cholesterol yolks—even though studies have shown that consuming moderate amounts of eggs, specifically, does not affect cholesterol levels.
It’s true that egg yolks contain a large amount of cholesterol. But what has been overlooked is that the yolks are also one of the richest sources of choline, which is a component of lecithin. Choline acts like a fat and cholesterol dissolver, and it keeps the cholesterol in the egg moving through your bloodstream so it can’t accumulate on artery walls.
If you want to raise your HDL cholesterol level, start eating half a raw onion every day. Dr. Victor Gurewich of Tufts University had patients with abnormally low HDL cholesterol levels eat a raw onion a day, and HDL levels increased by an average of 30 percent. Just be aware that you will have to do it for two to three months before you see the jump.
In addition to their ability to raise HDL cholesterol, onions are also known for helping to make blood cells less sticky and prone to developing clots immediately following a meal high in fat. In the 1960s, a researcher in India found that when two ounces of grilled onions were eaten with a meal containing 90 percent fat, cholesterol levels didn’t increase, platelets didn’t get sticky and clump, and blood-clotting compounds like fibrinogen weren’t produced.
Another excellent food to reduce cholesterol is fiber. It acts as a kind of mop, carrying cholesterol out of the body before it’s absorbed into the bloodstream. Here are six of the best sources for adding fiber to your diet:
- Oats and oat bran. These seem to be the best fibers for reducing cholesterol. Researchers at the University of Kentucky and VA Medical Center found that oat bran reduced LDL cholesterol levels by more than 20 percent in only 11 days. Adding oat bran to the diet each day was the only change the study participants made to their eating habits or lifestyle.
- Legumes. Chickpeas, brown beans, and other legumes can also lower cholesterol levels. The study I just mentioned in connection with oat bran also included a participant group that substituted brown beans or chickpeas for the oat bran. That group experienced the same results. Those who stayed on the diet for more than two years showed a 29 percent decrease in LDL levels.
- Apple pectin. When taken with vitamin C, apple pectin can reduce cholesterol levels in both the liver and the blood. A study performed at the Institute of Human Nutrition showed that a daily dosage of 450 mg of vitamin C, along with 15 grams of citrus pectin, lowered LDL cholesterol levels in a period of just six weeks.
- Grapefruit pectin. A University of Florida study showed that grapefruit pectin can lower LDL cholesterol levels. Volunteers took a 5-gram capsule three times a day, with no other dietary changes. After eight weeks, their total cholesterol dropped an average of 7.6 percent, LDL cholesterol dropped 10.8 percent, and the ratio of LDL to HDL fell by 9.8 percent.
- Psyllium. One of the most interesting studies I’ve seen on reducing cholesterol involved the use of Metamucil, which is made from psyllium husks. Patients took one 3.4-gram packet of sugar-free Metamucil three times a day. Total cholesterol levels started to drop within two weeks, and had fallen by 15 percent by the end of eight weeks. LDL cholesterol levels dropped 20 percent, and the LDL-to-HDL ratio decreased from 3.2 to 2.6.
- Guar gum. Guar gum, which is made from the guar plant that grows in the drier parts of Texas, Mexico, Pakistan, and India, has been shown to lower cholesterol levels by as much as 25 percent. You can buy guar gum in health food stores and from online retailers.
Fish and Fish Oil
Fish oil has been shown to lower triglyceride levels as well as cholesterol levels.
Consuming certain fish oils, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid, one of the omega-3 essential fatty acids), can help lower the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and clogged arteries. You can certainly opt to get your fish oil through capsules, but I recommend that you simply make it a point to eat fresh broiled or grilled (not fried) fish a few times a week.
The best sources of EPA are the higher-fat fishes like salmon and tuna. (For vegetarians, one of the best sources of EPA is spirulina, a blue-green algae that can be found in supplement form in health food stores, and flaxseed.)
Flaxseed is rich in alpha linolenic acid, a fatty acid that your body converts into EPA (the same beneficial oil found in fish). It also has several properties known to be beneficial in the treatment of high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, and atherosclerosis.
In one study, participants with chronic high cholesterol were given three slices of bread containing flaxseed, along with 15 grams of ground flaxseed per day. After three months, this protocol helped to lower both their cholesterol levels and their tendency to form blood clots.
Flaxseed is inexpensive, and probably the best way to enjoy the benefits of flax. Grind the seeds in a coffee grinder just before using them (flaxseed oil goes rancid quickly, so consume the ground seed quickly). If the seeds aren’t crushed, they will pass through your system intact and you won’t get the benefits. Also, make sure you drink plenty of water, because fiber in flax soaks up water like a sponge. Without adequate liquids, it can have the opposite effect—constipation.
If you find that grinding seeds every day is inconvenient, take a tablespoon of flax oil daily. Drizzling it on salads, bread, or vegetables is one of the quickest and easiest methods of raising linolenic acid levels. Because flaxseed oil breaks down and becomes rancid quickly, store it in the refrigerator or in the freezer if you don’t intend to use it within four to six weeks. Frozen, the oil will last a year or more.
More Dr. Williams Advice on Cholesterol
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