Probably you are familiar with a popular statement regarding the connection between cholesterol levels and heart health that says ‘in order to prevent heart disease you have to maintain high HDL (“good”) cholesterol and low LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.’
Studies have shown that having high cholesterol especially LDL cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. In addition, having low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides is also linked to increased risk. People with high blood triglycerides are usually found to have lower HDL cholesterol.
When one has oxidative stress, in which antioxidants are lacking and more free radicals roaming around in your bloodstream and inside your cells, certain amounts of cholesterol in VLDL, IDL, LDL, and HDL become oxidized and converted into oxysterol.
There are many factors involve in oxidative stress, including smoking, psychological stress, unhealthy diet habits, high blood glucose, and physical inactivity.
Other factors less discussed include too many toxins in the body due to a prolonged impaired detox and drinking too much alcohol (ethanol from alcohol is converted to ethanal (an aldehyde), a strong oxidizer that can oxidize cholesterol).
Still, another factor thought to impair the lipid profile (triglyceride, total cholesterol, HDL, and LDL levels) is habitual uses of polyunsaturated vegetable oils, including soy oil, sunflower oil, and corn oil. When heated at 180 degrees Fahrenheit or more these oils turn into aldehydes, very potent oxidizing compounds which can oxidize cholesterol.
Cholesterol is one of the cell membrane components. There are other components prone to get oxidized as well, including other types of lipids and proteins. When they are oxidized, you liver send out lots of LDL loaded with cholesterol to help strengthen the cell membrane structure.
Besides oxysterol, ethanal, and some other types of aldehydes (polyunsaturated vegetable oils) there are other oxidizers that can oxidize cell membrane components, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, polycyclic amines, and acrylamides. Other oxidizers include advanced glycation end-products, cadmium (in cigarette smoke), arsenic, lead, and mercury.
Once the cell membranes get attacked by any or a combination of these oxidizers, LDL cholesterol levels become higher as cholesterol is needed to repair/strengthen the cell membrane structures.
At the same time, HDL levels become lower because much is retained in the cell membrane.
Fortunately, there are foods you can consume to help lower and increase the LDL and HDL levels, respectively.
Fruits and Berries
Taking various types of fruits especially deep-colored ones can help lower cholesterol and improve heart health.
Studies have shown that soluble fiber contents in many types of fruits may help lower cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber helps lower cholesterol levels by getting rid of cholesterol and preventing cholesterol production by the liver.
Pectin, a soluble fiber found in fruits, including grapes, citrus fruits, apples, and strawberries, has been shown to lower cholesterol by up to 10%.
Bioactive compounds in many types of fruits which comprise antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients along with vitamin C can improve lipid profile which in turn may help prevent heart disease.
Berries and grapes are particularly rich sources of phytonutrients, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenols and bioflavonoids, both of which can help increase HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol.
Fiber and antioxidant rich contents make vegetables an important part of a heart-healthy diet. In addition, their low calories are helpful for maintaining a healthy weight.
Some vegetables such eggplants, potatoes, okra, and carrots are rich in pectin, the same cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber found in citrus fruits and apple.
Vegetables also offer a range of plant compounds including carotenoids, polyphenols, bioflavonoids, lignins, and stilbenes, which are associated with many health benefits including protection against heart disease.
Carotenoids in dark leafy greens act as antioxidants to get rid of harmful free radicals that can lead to atherosclerosis.
Legumes, alternatively known as pulses, are a group of plant foods that include beans, lentil, and peas.
Besides rich in fiber, they also contain minerals and good amounts of protein. Consuming them along with some unrefined grains can help lower your risk of heart disease.
A study involved a review of 26 randomized controlled studies found that eating half a cup (118 ml) of legumes per day is effective in lowering LDL cholesterol by an average of 6.6 mg/dl, as compared to not eating legumes.
Nuts, Especially Almonds and Walnuts
A study has demonstrated that’s eating nut-enriched diets have cholesterol lowering effects. Another study involving subjects at high cardiovascular risk showed that regular nut consumption is associated with a 30% reduction in cardiovascular diseases.
Nuts, exceptionally nutrient-dense food, are very high in monounsaturated fats, a kind of fat similar to that of olive oil. In addition, walnuts also offer the plant variety of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of anti-inflammatory polyunsaturated fat that’s linked to heart health.
Besides particularly rich in L-arginine, an amino acid that helps make nitric oxide, nuts also contain phytosterols. These plant sterols are structurally similar to cholesterol which can help lower the body cholesterol by blocking its absorption in the intestines.
Magnesium, calcium, and potassium are also found in nuts, all of which are linked to reduced blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease.
A study that involved an analysis of 25 studies, eating two to three servings of nuts per day found to decrease LDL cholesterol by an average of 10.2 mg/dl
Fatty fish offers high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and have been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Salmon and mackerel are the two fatty fish found to have excellent sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which have cholesterol-lowering effects and anti-inflammatory properties.
Fish is famously known as a major source of protein in the Mediterranean diet, which has been extensively studied for its benefits for heart health.
Avoid consuming fried fish as much as possible as it may actually increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. The healthiest ways to consume fish are baked, broiled, grilled, or raw.
Dark Chocolate and Cocoa
Dark chocolate and cocoa are rich in bioflavonoids that can help lower LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol. They also help lower blood pressure.
Another study has demonstrated that cocoa and dark chocolate may help protect the LDL cholesterol in your blood from oxidation, which is a key step in the pathway towards heart disease
As chocolate is often high in added sugar, which negatively affects lipid profile, therefore, you should use cocoa directly or choose dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 75–85% or higher.
Avocados are an exceptionally excellent for lipid profile as they contain monounsaturated fatty acids and fiber, two heart-healthy and cholesterol-lowering nutrients.
Clinical studies have demonstrated that participants consuming one avocado daily had helped lowered LDL levels compared to those who didn’t eat avocados.
In addition, other studies have found that substituting avocados for other fats was associated with lower total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides.
Whole Grains, Especially Oats and Barley
Whole grains have all parts of the grain remain intact, which provides them with more vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber compared to that of refined grains.
While studies have suggested that all whole grains may promote heart health, two grains are particularly worth noting: oats and barley.
Oats contain beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol. Consuming oats is associated with a decrease of 5% total cholesterol and 7% of LDL cholesterol.
Barley is also rich in beta-glucan that has also been found to help lower LDL cholesterol.
Garlic has been used by people of diverse cultures the world over for centuries as an ingredient in cooking and as a medicine. It contains various potent phytonutrients, including allicin, which is the main active compound in garlic.
Studies have suggested that garlic may help lower total and LDL cholesterol, nonetheless, the effect is less strong.
Aged garlic is considered to contribute better results in improving lipid profile compared to normal garlic.
Soy proteins and isoflavones (bioflavonoids) have been reported to exert beneficial effects on the lipid profile.
A recent analysis of 35 studies has suggested that consuming soy foods was linked to reductions in LDL and total cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol.
Unfermented soy products such as soy milk and tofu are said to prevent the absorptions of important mineral such as iron. The best soy products to consume are fermented soy beans such as tempeh, miso, and brewed soy sauce.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most important foods in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.
Olive oil is loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids, carotenoids, polyphenols, and bioflavonoids that may help raise HDL cholesterol levels and lower LDL cholesterol. Its polyphenols, some of which have been shown to reduce the inflammation that can drive heart disease.
Two primary antioxidant phytonutrients in tea that deliver benefits are catechins and quercetin.
Last but Not Least
There are many other antioxidant-rich foods, most of which you probably have already consumed them regularly to help improve your lipid profile, including thyme, rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, clove, ginger, turmeric, and jalapeno.
Kimchi and apple cider vinegar are also said to help improve lipid profile due to the increased bioavailability of the antioxidant phytonutrients.