High cholesterol can be caused by several factors, some you can change, and some you can't. Heredity can play a big part. Some people can have a perfect heart-healthy lifestyle, and still have skyrocketing cholesterol because their bodies naturally make too much of it- our bodies' production of cholesterol is independent from what we eat. For these folks, medication is often the only way to bring down their numbers. However, for the vast majority of people diagnosed with high cholesterol, you can improve your profile by reducing body weight (if you are overweight), increasing physical activity, and following my cholesterol-busting nutrition program.
Right off the bat, I tell you this:
If you are overweight, focus on losing weight. Research has shown that losing just 10 pounds can reduce LDL cholesterol by 5 to 8 percent.
Become more physically active. Even moderate exercise can help improve your cholesterol, as well as triglycerides, and blood pressure.
Specific foods to limit or avoid
The top dietary recommendations for lowering cholesterol are to eliminate or at least drastically limit the foods you eat that contain saturated fats, trans fats, dietary cholesterol, and refined carbohydrates.
Saturated fats are found in animal-based foods, including meats, butter, whole-milk dairy products (including yogurt, cheese, and ice cream), and poultry skin. They are also found in some high-fat plant foods, including palm oil. Numerous studies have shown that by replacing saturated fat with olive oil or nuts (monounsaturated fat)... you can reduce LDL-cholesterol by significant amounts.
Trans fats were developed in a laboratory to improve the shelf life of processed foods -- and they do. But calorie for calorie, trans fats are even more dangerous than the saturated fats. Most stick margarines contain trans fats, and trans fats are found in many packaged baked goods, potato chips, snack foods, fried foods, and fast food that use or create "hydrogenated oils". (All food labels must now list the amount of trans fats, right after the amount of saturated fats - good news for consumers.) There is no safe amount of trans fats, so try to keep them as far from your plate as possible.
Years ago, doctors used to recommend that people with heart disease avoid all high-cholesterol foods. But dietary cholesterol does not harm health as much as saturated fats and trans fats do. Research into the effects of dietary cholesterol have been mixed, which is not surprising-different people have different susceptibilities. Still, if you want to take a firm hand to reduce your risk factors, you may want to consider cutting down on all high-cholesterol foods, including egg yolks, shellfish, liver, and other organ meats like sweetbreads and foie gras.
Good foods to choose:
Soluble fiber, may help reduce cholesterol by grabbing onto cholesterol and escorting it through your digestive system and out of your body. It also may reduce the intestinal absorption of cholesterol as well. Some of the best soluble fiber rich foods include; oatmeal, barley, lentils, Brussels sprouts, peas, beans (kidney, lima, black, navy, pinto), apples, blackberries, pears, raisins, oranges, grapefruit, dates, figs, prunes, apricots, broccoli, and sweet potato.
Healthy fats - Omega 3 Fats and Monounsaturated Fats
There was a time when heart researchers slapped the same label -- "bad" -- on every kind of fat. Now, we know that trans fats and saturated fats are amazingly dangerous for cardiovascular health, but omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats are actually good for your heart. Heart-healthy fish oils are especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In multiple studies over the past 15 years, people who ate diets high in omega-3s had 30 to 40 percent reductions in heart disease, and fewer cases of sudden death from arrhythmia. Omega-3s seem to reduce inflammation, reduce high blood pressure, decrease triglycerides, help to make blood thinner and less sticky so it is less likely to clot... PLUS raise HDL cholesterol (that's the good cholesterol)! So omega-3s affect nearly every risk factor for heart disease. I recommend eating at least three servings (4-ounce portions) of one of the omega-3-rich fish every week - fish like wild salmon, sardines, anchovies and mackerel (not king). If you cannot manage to eat that much fatty fish, incorporate omega 3 fortified eggs and additional plant based sources like walnuts, soybeans and ground flax.
Scientists discovered the benefits of monounsaturated fats, mainly found in olive oil by observing Mediterranean populations. They use olive oil more than any other form of fat and typically have low rates of coronary artery disease. Research shows it doesn't help to just add monounsaturated fats to your diet-you need to replace some of the unhealthy fats that are already in your diet (all those saturated and trans fats mentioned earlier) with better choices. There is evidence that substituting olive oil for saturated fat and low-quality refined carbohydrates can lower LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and increase HDL-Cholesterol (the good cholesterol). Best foods for monounsaturated fats include: olive oil and olives, canola oil, avocado, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, peanuts, cashews, pistachio nuts and natural peanut butter.
Plant sterols or stanols
Sterols and stanols are natural substances found in small amounts in the cell membrane of plants, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. They are found in relatively high amounts in pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ. Sterols and stanols have a structure similar to cholesterol, and they compete with cholesterol for access to receptors in the small intestines. Imagine 15 people all hoping to get a ride in their friend's Volkswagen Beetle -not everyone is going to be riding in the car. Sterols/stanols compete with cholesterol, effective blocking its access. Research has shown that sterols and stanols have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by between 5 and 14 percent.
You can reap these cardiovascular benefits with just 2 grams of sterol/stanol per day, though you can't get that much eating fruits and vegetables alone. Sterols and stanols have been added to certain heart-healthy spreads that taste and cook just like margarine, including Take Control and Benecol spreads. That said they're only for those with cholesterol problems, who should consume no more than the amounts recommended: 2 to 3 tablespoons per day (each tablespoon provides one gram of sterol/stanol). You can use it on whole-grain bread, melt it on heart-healthy vegetables, or use it in cooking. I recommend trying the light versions of these spreads to save yourself 30 calories per tablespoon. If you're not a bread eater, please don't start just to have a vehicle for these spreads! Instead consider the plant stanol/sterol supplements. My favorite is Cholest-Off by Nature Made. You have to take two tablets in the morning and two tablets at night (a total of four tablets a day), 15 to 30 minutes before a meal. If you are taking a prescription cholesterol-lowering medication, talk with your doctor before taking sterol/stanol supplements.