“Good” Fats and Oils. Got “good” fats? Monounsaturated fats in particular can help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol levels when you eat them in place of unhealthy saturated or trans fats. You’ll find these heart-healthy fats in foods such as avocados, peanut butter and nuts like hazelnuts, almonds and pecans.
Vegetable oils such as olive, canola and peanut are also rich in monounsaturates. Don’t go overboard, though—all fats, even healthy ones, are high in calories. A handful of nuts or 2 tablespoons of olive oil, for instance, is all you need to help your heart.
Fish and Omega-3s
Omega-3s are a superstar fat that can protect your heart and may improve your blood cholesterol profile. The best place to find omega-3s are in fish and fish oil. Go for fatty fish, such as mackerel, herring, sardines and salmon, because they have a high concentration of omega-3s. (Just be sure to bake or grill the fish, not fry it). The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (especially the fatty kind) at least two times a week. Not a seafood fan? Soy foods (including tofu), walnuts and flaxseeds contain a plant form of omega-3s.
Grains and Oats
What’s the best way to start your day? Fill up on oatmeal, rolled oats or oat bran. These foods contain soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, by preventing cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. You need at least 3 grams of soluble fiber a day to reduce your heart diseaserisk—and 1 1/2 cups of cooked oatmeal will give you up to 6 grams. If oats aren’t your thing, grains such as barley, psyllium and rice bran are also rich in cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber.
Beans and Lentils
Oats aren’t the only food bursting with soluble fiber—beans, lentils and peas are also a good source. One study found that eating half a cup of cooked dry pinto beans daily for 12 weeks lowered total cholesterol by about 8 percent. Other studies have linked beans with decreased levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. The beautiful part: Bean-based meals are a protein-rich great substitute for high-saturated fat, cholesterol-heavy meats. Go veggie chili!
A glass of beer or wine with dinner may improve your cholesterol profile, and help protect your heart in other ways. Moderate drinking has been linked with higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, though whether certain beverages, like antioxidant-rich red wine, have additional heart benefits hasn’t been established. Any alcoholic beverage will work—but these benefits are not a green light for binge drinking, which can lead to serious health problems. If you can’t drink in moderation, don’t start. And if you do drink, limit your alcoholintake to one drink a day if you’re a woman and two a day if you’re male.
Plant Sterols and Stanols
More and more foods are being fortified these days with plant sterols and stanols, substances naturally found in many plant foods. Why? These compounds help block the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. Foods such as margarine, orange juice and yogurt drinks are often fortified with sterols and stanols. To see your LDL (bad) cholesterol drop by about 5 to 15 percent, though, you need to eat at least 2 grams of these substances a day. You can get this amount of sterols and stanols by drinking two 8 ounce glasses of fortified orange juice a day.
An apple a day might really keep the cardiologist away. Fruits such as apples, pears, oranges and grapefruit contain soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower cholesterol. Other fruits, such as blueberries, cranberries and grapes, may also reduce cholesterol, perhaps because they’re high in heart-healthy antioxidants. So stock up on fruits and make them a regular part of your diet.