High cholesterol can pose a serious threat to your heart health. That's because as your cholesterol rises, you begin to develop fatty deposits in your bloodstream, making it harder for blood to flow through your arteries. This is known as atherosclerosis, a condition that can lead to blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. The good news? You can take control of your cholesterol levels through a well-balanced diet that includes these four foods recommended by nutrition experts. Read on to learn which diet staples should be on your plate for a healthier heart and lower cholesterol.
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Oatmeal is packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber, a combination that helps to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often known as "bad" cholesterol. In fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic, adding just one and a half cups of cooked oatmeal to your daily diet can lower your cholesterol by five to eight percent.
The Mayo Clinic recommends topping your oatmeal off with fruit such as apples, pears, bananas, or berries for even more fiber. The only caveat? "Be careful not to load up your oats with sugar and butter," Lindsay Delk, RDN, a registered dietitian of over 20 years tells Best Life.
Almonds, walnuts, and other tree nuts are another great choice for lowering LDL cholesterol. A 2021 study published in the journal Circulation found that people who ate half a cup of walnuts every day for two years were able to lower their cholesterol levels and "improve the quality of LDL particles."
"LDL particles come in various sizes," explained the study's co-author Emilio Ros, PhD, via press release. "Research has shown that small, dense LDL particles are more often associated with atherosclerosis, the plaque or fatty deposits that build up in the arteries."
However, a wide range of nuts provide similar benefits, so there's no need to limit yourself to walnuts. "Studies show that different types of nuts have the same effect, so you can choose your favorite," says Delk. "Enjoy a handful for a snack, or sprinkle some on your oatmeal, yogurt, or salads."
Avocados are high in fat, which at first glance may seem to work against healthy cholesterol levels. However, those fats are monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), healthy fats that can actually lower your risk of heart disease. "Research suggests that adding an avocado a day to a heart-healthy diet can help improve LDL cholesterol levels in people who are overweight or obese," the Mayo Clinic says.
However, the health authority warns that you should be thoughtful about how you serve this heart-healthy food. "People tend to be most familiar with avocados in guacamole, which usually is eaten with high-fat corn chips," they advise. "Try adding avocado slices to salads and sandwiches or eating them as a side dish. Also try guacamole with raw cut vegetables, such as cucumber slices."
Olive oil can help lower your cholesterol levels—especially if you use it to replace other, less healthy options that are high in saturated fat, such as vegetable and seed oils. "Olive oil is very high in monounsaturated fats–approximately 75 percent by volume, making it conducive to reducing LDL cholesterol, the 'bad' cholesterol," explains Julie Mancuso, founder and owner of JM Nutrition.
In fact, she says that proponents of the Mediterranean diet have olive oil to thank for its high health ratings. "One of the main reasons for such a high rating is the heart-healthy nature of the diet. [That's due to] regular consumption of healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil, as opposed to butter and lard," Mancuso says.
It's easy to include more olive oil in your meals. "You can sauté vegetables in olive oil, add it to a marinade, or mix it with vinegar as a salad dressing. You can also use olive oil as a substitute for butter when basting meat or as a dip for bread," the Mayo Clinic recommends.