Although the body needs small amounts of cholesterol, eating too much saturated fat or too many cholesterol-containing foods raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and causes plaque buildup in the arteries, which can lead to heart disease. Both high total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels are at major risk factor for heart disease. Eating foods low in dietary cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat plays an important role in lowering high cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease.
Studies show eating foods high in fiber helps lower blood cholesterol levels especially in those with high levels, and fiber also improves the ratio between LDL and HDL (good) cholesterol. Foods rich in fiber include: whole grains, oatmeal, bran, barely, beans, and many fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are also high in antioxidants which may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids also may help to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish weekly (8 ounces total). Fatty fish include albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and trout. Other excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, such as wheat germ and canola and flaxseed oils, may have a similar effect on cholesterol levels.
Monounsaturated fat has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol while maintaining HDL cholesterol levels. An excellent source of monounsaturated fat are nuts, and research suggests those who eat approximately one ounce of nuts a day have a lower risk of developing heart disease. Other sources of monounsaturated fat include olive oil, olives, pumpkin seeds, and avocados.
Foods to Avoid or Eat in Moderation
Since the body needs fat, not all fat should be eliminated; however, healthy fats should be chosen. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, total fat should make up no more than 20 to 35 percent of total daily calories. Cholesterol-containing foods, such as milk, eggs, cheese, and meats, do not have to be avoided, but should be eaten in moderation. Deep-fried foods should be avoided since foods prepared by deep-frying are high in saturated and trans fat.
While eating a heart-healthy diet plays a critical role in lowering cholesterol, losing any excess weight and engaging in some type of exercise are also both important in lowering cholesterol and protecting the heart.