Garlic packs a serious health punch. Some people love the flavor and others have been using it as a kitchen cure to boost immunity and promote heart health for years. Recent research has backed garlic's health benefits, especially for your heart. Garlic, along with garlic extract, has been shown to lower cholesterol, possibly by preventing cholesterol from being made in the liver. Plus, eating garlic may also help lower blood pressure. Give your heart a boost and add garlic to your sauces, salad dressings and stir-fries.
Chocolate fans rejoice! You might have heard that chocolate is good for you, and it's true. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain powerful antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, which help lower cholesterol. Milk chocolate has less cocoa solids, and thus lower flavonoid levels, and white chocolate is even lower in the good stuff. Reach for small portions of dark chocolate, preferably with a high cocoa content. Or try a sprinkle of cocoa powder in your smoothie or on yogurt to reap chocolate's cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Pick Purple Produce – Did you know that eating purple-colored vegetables and fruits can potentially increase your HDL cholesterol? That’s because these specific foods contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have been shown to help fight inflammation and protect your cells from free radicals. When you can, fill up your plate with purple produce like eggplant, purple corn, red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, and black raspberries.
Unsaturated fats are considered the healthiest fats because they improve cholesterol, help reduce inflammation (a risk factor for heart disease), and help decrease the overall risk of developing heart disease. The main source of unsaturated fats is plant-based foods. These fats are usually liquid at room temperature. There are two types of unsaturated fat: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Too much cholesterol in the blood builds up on artery walls causing hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). The buildup of cholesterol narrows arteries, slowing or blocking the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to the heart, which can manifest as chest pain. If blood flow to the heart is cut off because of clogged arteries, the result is damage to the heart muscle – a heart attack.
For women after menopause, a study published in August 2016 in the journal Diabetes & Metabolism found that high intensity interval training (on a bicycle) led to better HDL cholesterol levels as well as significant weight loss. And a study published in May 2016 in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that obese men who engaged in aerobic interval training (running on a treadmill) or resistance training (with weights) just three days a week for 12 weeks had significantly increased HDL cholesterol when compared with obese men who did no training.
With apologies to the American Heart Association, which discourages doctors from telling their patients about the advantages of alcohol: one or two drinks per day can significantly increase HDL levels. More than one or two drinks per day, one hastens to add, can lead to substantial health problems including heart failure. And unfortunately, there are many people who are simply incapable of limiting their alcohol intake to one or two drinks per day. Here's more on alcohol and the heart.
Tree nuts, such as walnuts, pistachios and pecans, have been shown to lower both total cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol. Nuts are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber and several vitamins and minerals that are good for heart health. Nuts also contain plant sterols, which are natural compounds that block the cholesterol you eat from entering your bloodstream. While nuts are awesome to eat, don't go crazy. Portion control is still important—there are 163 calories in just 1 ounce of almonds. Add a small handful to oatmeal, top toast with nut butter or make a DIY trail mix with dried fruit and nuts.
Could one of your current prescriptions be a cause of your low HDL levels? Possibly! Medications such as anabolic steroids, beta blockers, benzodiazepines and progestins can depress HDL levels. If you take any of these medications, I suggest talking to your doctor and considering if there is anything you can do that could take the place of your current prescription.
In humans, diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol raise HDL-cholesterol (HDL-C) levels. To explore the mechanism, we have devised a mouse model that mimics the human situation. In this model, HuAITg and control mice were studied on low fat (9% cal)-low cholesterol (57 mg/1,000 kcal) (chow) and high fat (41% cal)-high cholesterol (437 mg/1,000 kcal) (milk-fat based) diets. The mice responded to increased dietary fat by increasing both HDL-C and apo A-I levels, with a greater increase in HDL-C levels. This was compatible with an increase in HDL size observed by nondenaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. Turnover studies with doubly labeled HDL showed that dietary fat both increase the transport rate (TR) and decreased the fractional catabolic rate of HDL cholesterol ester (CE) and apo A-I, with the largest effect on HDL CE TR. The latter suggested that dietary fat increases reverse cholesterol transport through the HDL pathway, perhaps as an adaptation to the metabolic load of a high fat diet. The increase in apo A-I TR by dietary fat was confirmed by experiments showing increased apo A-I secretion from primary hepatocytes isolated from animals on the high fat diet. The increased apo A-I production was not associated with any increase in hepatic or intestinal apo A-I mRNA, suggesting that the mechanism of the dietary fat effect was posttranscriptional, involving either increased translatability of the apo A-I mRNA or less intracellular apo A-I degradation. The dietary fat-induced decrease in HDL CE and apo A-I fractional catabolic rate may have been caused by the increase in HDL particle size, as was suggested by our previous studies in humans. In summary, a mouse model has been developed and experiments performed to better understand the paradoxical HDL-raising effect of a high fat diet.
Fish can be fatty or lean, but it’s still low in saturated fat. Eat at least 8 ounces of non-fried fish each week, which may be divided over two 3.5- to 4-ounce servings. Choose oily fish such as salmon, trout and herring, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Prepare fish baked, broiled, grilled or boiled rather than breaded and fried, and without added salt, saturated fat or trans fat. Non-fried fish and shellfish, such as shrimp, crab and lobster, are low in saturated fat and are a healthy alternative to many cuts of meat and poultry.
There's no magical food to keep your heart healthy, but there are a lot of foods that can help—including these foods that help lower your cholesterol. In addition to cutting back on foods that can raise total cholesterol and getting enough exercise, make sure to eat more of these foods that improve your cholesterol profile by raising "good" HDL and/or lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol. These foods include some old standbys, such as oatmeal and fruit, plus a few surprising foods that can help lower cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.