You've been told to lower your cholesterol, a form of fat made by the liver and present in some foods. But did you know that adding certain foods to your diet may do as much to improve your cholesterol as medication? These foods are so effective that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says they can carry the health claim for managing cholesterol. There are five foods that can help cholesterol.
1. Soluble fiber. Sometimes called roughage, soluble fiber reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – the "bad" cholesterol by reducing its adsorption in the digestive tract. It is most effective if at least 10gm is used a day. Examples of soluble fiber include oatmeal, fruit, kidney beans, psyllium and barley.
2. Nuts. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, many kinds of nuts reduce cholesterol and help keep blood vessels healthy and elastic. Aim for a handful each day or about 1.5 ounces. Remember that nuts are high in calories, so more isn't better. To keep fats to a minimum, make substitutions. For example, add nuts to salads instead of cheese or meat. Examples of nuts to include in your diet are walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and hazelnuts.
3. Fish. Fatty fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which helps lower cholesterol and reduce blood pressure and the risk of blood clots. Try for two servings of fish each week. You can also take an omega-3 or fish oil supplement or eat ground flaxseed or canola oil.
Examples of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids are mackerel, trout, salmon, tuna, sardines and herring.
4. Olive oil. Although many people think all oil is bad, some oils are actually good for you. Olive oil lowers "bad" cholesterol, but doesn't touch the "good" kind, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. A goal is 2 tablespoons of olive oil each day. You can use olive oil to sauté foods or as a salad dressing when mixed with vinegar.
5. Fortified foods. Some foods are now fortified with plant sterols or stanols. These are substances that block the absorption of cholesterol. Aim for 2 grams a day of plant sterols. Examples of the kinds of foods fortified with these substances are margarines, low-fat spreads, orange juice and yogurt drinks.
Of course, it's also important to eat less of saturated fats, including meats and some oils, and try to eliminate trans fats. Trans fats still show up in some baked goods like cakes, cookies, and crackers. They raise LDL and lower HDL. Also remember that exercise and weight control are important.