Did you know, almost half of American adults have high cholesterol? So, if that’s you, know you aren’t alone. It’s mostly the combination of lifestyle factors and genetics that influences cholesterol. But what you eat still matters. In fact, when you eat closer to what the Dietary Guidelines recommend, you could lower your risk of heart disease and cholesterol.
So, aim to eat more fruits, vegetables, lean protein, lower-fat dairy and whole grains—and at the same time, eat fewer less-healthy or empty-calorie foods like processed meats, salty snacks like potato chips, sweets and sweetened beverages.
That said, although a single food isn’t the magic bullet, these 10 foods have the potential to directly improve your cholesterol. Read on.
1. Brussels sprouts
A ½-cup serving of Brussels sprouts contains 3 grams of soluble fiber. And research suggests that upping your soluble fiber by as little as 5 to 10 grams a day can lower your LDL cholesterol by 3 to 5%. That’s because soluble fiber binds to some of the dietary cholesterol in your intestines, preventing your body from absorbing it.
Like Brussels sprouts, oatmeal contains soluble fiber. That’s one win. But also, in a study of overweight and obese adults, those who included two daily servings of oatmeal in their weight-loss diet significantly lowered their total and LDL cholesterol.
According to a meta-analysis (essentially a type of study of studies) published in 2016, taking garlic supplements for two months could slightly improve cholesterol levels. Still, a small improvement is worthwhile: an 8% decrease in cholesterol has the potential to lower heart disease risk by 38%.
Adults who regularly eat a few ounces of almonds have significantly lower total and LDL cholesterol and higher HDL cholesterol (the good kind) compared to those who eat fewer almonds, according to a study of studies published in 2019. Try snacking on almonds for a heart-healthy snack or adding them to salads or oatmeal for a hearty crunch.
5. Hot peppers
The capsaicinoids (the compounds that make peppers spicy) have been shown to have a positive effect on cholesterol, as well as helping prevent platelets in your blood from sticking together and building up in your arteries.
Yes, this spicy, fermented veggie has cholesterol-improving potential. In a study of Korean adults, those who ate just under 1½ cups of kimchi each day for seven days significantly improved their total and LDL cholesterol. But also, those who ate much less kimchi (only two pieces at each meal) also lowered their cholesterol. And no matter how much kimchi was eaten, the participants who officially had “high” cholesterol reaped bigger benefits from eating kimchi than those who already had healthier cholesterol levels.
Eating seaweed may help improve blood cholesterol levels—as shown in animal studies—and even when the subjects were fed a high-fat and high-cholesterol diet. Depending on the study, some animals lowered their triglycerides and LDL, while others raised their HDL.
8. Carbonated mineral water
When postmenopausal women drank 1 liter of still water with a low mineral content for two months and then 1 liter of carbonated mineral water for two months, they saw a significant drop in their total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, and they saw an increase in their HDL cholesterol after drinking the carbonated mineral water, per a small study in Spain. Staying hydrated helps keep your body healthy, and mineral water may have some extra benefits.
In a study published in 2014 in the journal Food & Nutrition Research, women who ate grapefruit or drank its juice regularly had lower triglyceride levels and higher HDL cholesterol compared to those who didn’t consume grapefruit or its juice. Another bonus: The grapefruit group also had higher intakes of vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and fiber.
A handful of studies have found that people who add pistachios to their diet lower their total and LDL cholesterol, and raise their HDL cholesterol. They also improve their cholesterol ratios, which is valuable in terms of predicting heart disease risk. There is a minor catch: Much of the research looked at adding pistachios to a lower- or moderate-fat diet, so you likely can’t simply add pistachios to your standard Western diet and see an improvement.
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