by Sumptuous Spoonfuls
If you (or a loved one) are battling heart health issues like high cholesterol (and a high LDL “bad cholesterol” level), I have good news. Food is powerful medicine. Many studies show that by changing your diet and exercise regime, you can change your cholesterol. You don’t necessarily have to resort to statin drugs.
I have a personal confession. There’s a deeply personal reason for this post. Last year was rough on me … and I resorted to regularly eating some stress foods that maybe weren’t the best for my health. I didn’t gain any weight, so I thought I was doing okay, until I had a cholesterol test (for the work wellness program) and my cholesterol and LDL level (the “bad” cholesterol) were quite high. My triglycerides and HDL were good, but my HDL level didn’t really make up for the high LDL. My family history is not helping, but I can definitely do some things to help rectify this situation.
Although I already have a great understanding of how to eat healthy (a wonderful gift from my mom the registered dietitian), I’ve been doing more research into how to eat better to lower my cholesterol so I can avoid going on a statin drug. Here’s what I’ve found … and some of these might surprise you. If you’re skeptical, definitely click on the links to learn more about the studies that support these statements or do your own research. I’m an engineer, not a dietitian … but I do my research and I like to make healthy recipes. I provided recipe suggestions for each of the heart-healthy foods suggested below. Also watch my blog for more heart healthy recipes because my goal this year is to lower my “bad” cholesterol and improve my “good” cholesterol.
What are the best foods for lowering your cholesterol?
There are so many good foods that help lower your cholesterol and maintain your heart health. Here are just a few … I’m doing a series of heart-healthy recipes, so watch my blog for parts 2 and 3 if you want more ideas and yummy recipes for lowering cholesterol. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even do a couple more collections as I do more research on heart health and diet. Make sure you adjust the recipes as suggested below to ensure these are all beneficial for your heart.
Hot Peppers – the capsaicin in hot peppers (the same thing that makes them taste hot) lowers blood cholesterol levels and blocks a gene that makes arteries contract. If you like hot peppers, totally add them to your meals! They’re good for your heart.
- Cilantro almond salsa – a super heart healthy condiment. It’s one of my go-to recipes and everyone seriously LOVES it! If you’re watching your sodium intake, feel free to adjust the amount of salt.
- Hot Pepper Harissa Bean & Veggie Stew – a hearty vegetable stew that’ll clear out your sinuses and leave you feeling fabulous.
- Spicy West African Fried Rice – use brown rice in this flavorful dish to make it extra heart healthy.
Whole Eggs – say what? Eggs? Even the yolks? Yes, whole eggs (especially eggs from free-range chickens). Eggs are probably the best source of protein on the planet. Admittedly, there have been some small studies that found that eating egg yolks can raise cholesterol levels BUT there have been a few very large studies that have shown that eating egg yolks can lower high cholesterol by raising your good cholesterol. (This seems to only be applicable when you have a good diet to begin with.) Also, egg yolks are a great source of vitamin K2 which prevents arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis AND has the potential to reverse arterial calcification. So yes, you CAN have eggs on a low cholesterol diet. Hurrah for eggs!
- Summer Garden Curry Baked Eggs – this pretty dish is packed with healthy veggies, hot peppers, and turmeric … all good things for lowering your cholesterol.
- Perfect Broccoli Scrambled Eggs – totally delicious and such a quick easy breakfast, this easy scramble has become a regular occurrence at my house.
- Spicy North Indian Baked Eggs – eggs in the style of India! Baked in a richly spiced tomato sauce, these eggs will win over the heart of anyone who loves spicy Indian food.
- Bacon Spinach Quinoa Souffle Cups – high fiber quinoa makes the “crust” for these lovely little egg bites that make an awesome “on the go” breakfast. Go easy on the bacon here (or leave it out) to keep it heart healthy. Use grass-fed cheese for vitamin K2 which is so good for your heart.
- Baked Eggs Romesco with Kale – Use cheese from grass-fed cows in this easy breakfast recipe to boost your vitamin K2 intake.
Nuts – especially almonds or walnuts. Nuts lower your risk of heart disease by lowering your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and they may provide other heart and overall health advantages by decreasing blood pressure and reducing visceral adiposity, which is the fat that surrounds your organs in your abdomen (aka, they can help flatten your tummy!) Walnuts in particular are high in omega-3 fatty acids, the same “good” fats found in oily fish like salmon. Peanuts and pumpkin seeds are really good too. Eat nuts in moderation, though–try to limit to a serving per day. 1 serving of almonds, for example, is 28 nuts.
- Big Vegan Buddha Bowl from ChinDeep – toasted almonds and a delightful peanut sauce provide protein for this veggie-based meal. There are so many flavors and colors going on here!
- Feta Walnut Spinach Salad with creamy dijon yogurt dressing. This simple salad comes together in minutes and boasts lots of colors, flavors and textures, along with heart healthy greens and walnuts. Use low fat feta for heart health.
- Cinnamon Ginger Candied Walnuts – both walnuts and ginger are great for lowering your cholesterol. These lightly sweet, spiced nuts are great for snacking or adding to salads.
- Cherry Chocolate Almond Mini Muffins – these tiny little muffins are bite sized and full of almonds, cherries and dark chocolate, all of which are good for lowering cholesterol, along with high fiber coconut flour. And they taste like a decadent treat!
Salmon, tuna, or trout (or other fatty fish like sardines) – fatty fish are excellent sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s bolster heart health by increasing “good” HDL cholesterol and lowering inflammation and stroke risk. Some of the heart-protective benefits of fish may also come from certain peptides found in fish protein. Two servings of fatty fish per week are recommended.
- Shrimp & Smoked Salmon Sushi Bowl – An easy peasy version of sushi! Substitute brown rice for the sushi rice for extra fiber. The avocado steps in to give you an extra boost of heart healthy fats.
- Cashew Salmon with Cranberry Apricot Quinoa – the most romantic meal ever (in my book), this lovely meal has a lovely mix of flavors and colors and is so easy to prepare.
- Lemon Grilled Salmon with Rosemary Garlic Veggies – when it’s time to fire up the grill, make this delectable meal that’s so good for your heart.
- Smoky Lemon Roasted Salmon with Lemon Tahini Yogurt Sauce – One of the quickest, easiest meals to prepare, this elegant dish is loaded with heart healthy omega-3’s.
Garlic and Onions – this is especially good news for me (and for you, if you like to cook my recipes), because just about every savory recipe I make starts with garlic and onions. Studies suggest that garlic lowers blood pressure in people with elevated levels and may help lower total and “bad” LDL cholesterol. Regarding onions: another study found that flavonoids in onions reduced the low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol in obese people at risk of cardiovascular disease. The researchers attributed this to the specific flavonoid quercetin, an antioxidant found in onions and other fruits and vegetables.
- Smoky Roasted Garlic Zummus (zucchini hummus) – A flavorful dip rich in heart healthy ingredients like garlic, chickpeas, garlic and olive oil
- Bacon & Onion Tomato Gratin – skip (or limit) the bacon, use whole grain breadcrumbs and olive oil instead of bacon fat to up the heart health benefits of this dish featuring garlic, onion and heart-healthy tomatoes.
- Oven Baked Onion Rings – A heart-healthy version of onion rings that you will seriously love!
Beans and other legumes (including beans, peas and lentils). Legumes provide fiber, minerals and protein, all of which are good for your heart. A review of 26 randomized controlled studies showed that eating a 1/2 cup (100 grams) of legumes per day is effective at lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol by an average of 6.6 mg/dl. Other studies link eating legumes to weight loss, even if not cutting calories.
- Gypsy Stew with Ham, Lentils & Chickpeas – my boyfriend (at the time) told me he wanted to be buried in this stew he loved it so much. He’s since left me, but he got one thing right … this stew is seriously wonderful. There are loads of heart-healthy ingredients in this tasty stew.
- Six Pepper Venison Chili with Beans. If you don’t have venison, use grass fed beef or other low fat meat.
- Hearty African Lentil & Vegetable Stew – use brown rice or quinoa in place of the white basmati rice to make this dish extra heart healthy.
- Senate Bean Soup – the classic soup served in the Senate, much improved (IMHO)
Grass Fed Butter (and Cheese!) – when I found out I had elevated cholesterol and high LDL, my doctor referred me to a dietitian who specializes in heart health diets. Even though my mom is a registered dietitian and I didn’t think there was much for me to learn, I went. She looked at my food log and didn’t have a whole lot of suggestions, but one of her suggestions was to add grass fed butter to my diet. Grass fed butter is butter made from milk of grass fed cows and, like salmon, it is high in Omega 3’s. Grass fed butter is also high in Vitamin K2 which helps to keep calcium from hardening and blocking your arteries. High-fat dairy products (like butter and cheese) from grass-fed cows are among the best sources of Vitamin K2 in the diet. (Another good source is egg yolks.)
- Lemon Garlic Butter Chicken. Opt for low fat skinless chicken breasts or tenders along with grass fed butter (like KerryGold) to make this scrumptious dish extra heart healthy.
- Marinated Havarti Cheese: if you can find a grass-fed version of havarti, use that … or swap out the havarti in this recipe for grass-fed Dubliner cheese from Kerrygold (one of my very favorite cheeses!)
Avocados – Avocados are a rich source of monounsaturated fats and fiber — two nutrients that help lower “bad” LDL and raise “good” HDL cholesterol. An analysis of 10 studies determined that substituting avocados for other fats was linked to lower total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides.
- Asparagus Avocado Deviled Eggs – if you love deviled eggs, you’ve got to try this amazing avocado version
- Avocado Cilantro Lime Salad Dressing – a bright, zippy salad dressing that’s SO good on salads or as a sauce on fish or chicken or drizzled on a taco.
- Sue’s Amazing Peach Avocado Salsa – mangoes, peaches, avocados, cilantro, lime and salt … this salsa will be the hit of the party!
- Avocado Jalapeno Zummus – an avocado based version of hummus with zucchini, this extra heart healthy version of hummus will be a new favorite
- Chicken Avocado Caesar Salad – the classic Caesar dressing gets a healthy makeover with avocados!
- Chicken Mango Avocado Salad – with rosemary maple yogurt dressing and toasted pinons. A simple salad that’s easy to put together and satisfying enough for a meal.
What foods should you avoid for lowering cholesterol?
Even if you add all the above, your cholesterol may suffer if you don’t cut down on these things:
- COMPLETELY ELIMINATE hydrogenated oil and trans fats – This is the most important thing you can do for your cholesterol. Read the labels of everything you purchase at the store. Even if the nutrition label says 0 g trans fat, read the ingredient list. If hydrogenated oil is on the list, put it back on the shelf. Even a tiny amount of hydrogenated oil can seriously mess up your cholesterol levels, even if you’re on a statin drug.
- Fried foods – yeah, we all know fried foods are bad for you, but they’re really bad for your heart, especially if they’re fried in oil containing trans fats. Skip the fatty fried stuff when you go out and opt to bake instead of frying at home. When you do fry, choose a heart healthy oil like avocado oil, which has a high smoke point.
- Full-fat dairy products – opt for low-fat milk and cheeses … or choose cheeses from grass fed cows that are rich in Omega-3s and vitamin K2 (such as Kerry Gold cheeses like Dubliner or Skellig).
- Fatty meats – look for leaner cuts of meat and trim off any visible fat.
- White bread, white rice and sweets – these high carb temptations are typically stripped of nutrients and fiber and high in calories, so try to limit them and stick to whole grains and high fiber options.
What about exercise?
I can’t write an article about heart health without mentioning exercise. Exercise is key to a healthy lifestyle, especially if there is a concern about heart health. To keep your body healthy, you need to move! It doesn’t have to be a crazy exercise regime … just a brisk walk every day can make big strides towards heart health.
WebMD says that people who don’t exercise are almost twice as likely to get heart disease as people who are active. It’s also critical to keep your body moving to help keep joints healthy and prevent loss of motion. Your exercise routine should include aerobic exercise (cardio), stretching and strength training. I like to do yoga which is great for both stretching and strength training (as well as mental health). I also like to walk and swim, so I try to do some of that a few times a week as well. Choose activities you love to do (and find an exercise buddy!) so you’ll stick with it. Refer to this article for further advice.
I’ve got TONS more heart healthy, cholesterol lowering recipes for you >> Go to PART 2 where I share 52 more cholesterol lowering recipes (with notes on how to keep them heart healthy and links to the source of information).