Sometimes it just takes a few simple changes in diet to lower cholesterol levels.
The Mayo Clinic has published its top foods to improve your numbers. The list includes oatmeal, oat bran and high-fiber foods; fish and omega-3 fatty acids; walnuts, almonds and other nuts; avocados; olive oil; foods with added plant sterols or stanols (often found in margarines, orange juice and yogurt drinks); and whey protein.
But do better food choices alone make that much of an impact on the numbers?
Substituting more vegetables, fruits and whole grains in place of fatty meats can lower your total cholesterol by 25 percent or more and cutting back on saturated fat (found in meat and dairy products) and trans fat (partially hydrogenated oils) can reduce cholesterol by 5 to 10 percent, according to Harvard Medical School’s HEALTHbeat.
It suggests these four steps for using your diet to lower your cholesterol.
- Stick with unsaturated fats and avoid saturated and trans fats.Most vegetable fats (oils) are made up of unsaturated fats that are healthy for your heart. Foods that contain healthy fats include oily fish, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables. At the same time, limit your intake of foods high in saturated fat, which is found in many meat and dairy products, and stay away from trans fats. These include any foods made with “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.”
- Get more soluble fiber.Eat more soluble fiber, such as that found in oatmeal and fruits. This type of fiber can lower blood cholesterol levels when eaten as part of a healthy-fat diet.
- Include plant sterols and stanols in your diet.These naturally occurring plant compounds are similar in structure to cholesterol. When you eat them, they help limit the amount of cholesterol your body can absorb. Plant sterols and stanols are found in an increasing number of food products such as spreads, juices, and yogurts.
- Find a diet that works for you.When a friend or relative tells you how much his or her cholesterol level dropped after trying a particular diet, you may be tempted to try it yourself. If you do, and after a few months you discover that you’re not getting the same benefits, you may need to chalk it up to genetic and physiological differences. There is no one-size-fits-all diet for cholesterol control. You may need to try several approaches to find one that works for you.