Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
We are what we eat.
Diet is one of the most essential parts of a healthy lifestyle. The food we put into our bodies is more than just fuel. In many ways, food is part of our healthcare regimen. Thinking of food as medicine is becoming a dietary philosophy that is helping people make more mindful choices when it comes to what they eat.
And why not?
Getting more antioxidant-rich blueberries into your diet could help you address inflammation. We eat protein-heavy foods after working out to build our muscles up. And we can even use foods to help us on our journey to better cardiovascular health.
Plenty of foods have cholesterol-lowering benefits. But what is it about these foods that makes them good parts of a heart-healthy diet?
Read on as Zizi demystifies artery-clearing foods and what you need to know about them.
What Blocks Your Arteries?
How do your arteries get clogged up in the first place, and why?
Between the two of them, most people can reasonably assume that a cheeseburger is worse for your heart than a stalk of celery based on an even casual understanding of our health. But why exactly are some foods worse or better for your cardiovascular health?
What is it in these foods that make them better or worse for our arteries? It has a lot to do with the amount of cholesterol we get from them.
What Is Cholesterol?
One of the most significant contributors to the quality of our cardiovascular health is our cholesterol levels. You may be somewhat familiar with cholesterol, or maybe you have heard the term but aren’t quite sure what it means.
What is it about cholesterol that has such a significant effect on our health?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is crucial to the body. Our body uses cholesterol as a building block for our cells, meaning cholesterol is vital for health and bodily functions.
It sounds like a good thing, so why would it be a problem?
Our liver effectively makes all the cholesterol we need for the basic function of our body. It’s our primary source of cholesterol. Other than that, we get cholesterol from our diet through the foods we eat.
Fatty animal products, dairy, and fried foods can increase our cholesterol levels beyond what we need to function. When that happens, fatty deposits can collect in our bloodstream, and we start to see plaque build up on the arterial walls throughout our blood vessels.
Higher cholesterol levels predict an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and other cardiovascular diseases. So a deeper understanding of what cholesterol is and how it works empowers us to make informed decisions about our health, especially through our dietary choices.
What Are the Different Types of Cholesterol?
Cholesterol describes a range of blood lipids. When you learn more about cholesterol, the good kind, the bad kind, and other associated fatty acids, you gain the knowledge that will help you stock the right foods in your pantry.
LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein)
When your healthcare provider advises you to lower your cholesterol levels, this is generally the cholesterol they’re referring to. LDL can build up in our arteries, and it’s the type of cholesterol that can increase our risk of cardiovascular disease when we have too much of it in our bloodstream.
Avoiding foods that increase your LDL cholesterol levels is an important part of a healthy diet.
HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein)
You may have heard about the “good kind” of cholesterol before. But what does that mean? HDL cholesterol is a sort of anti-cholesterol — when there’s too much LDL cholesterol or other blood lipids in our bloodstream, HDL cholesterol can help remove these excess amounts and return them to the liver to be disposed of.
Given its recycling function, supporting your diet with foods that keep healthy levels of HDL cholesterol in the blood is very important.
Triglycerides aren’t cholesterol, but they are a blood lipid very similar to cholesterol. Like LDL cholesterol, when we have too many triglycerides in our bloodstream, we increase our risk of heart diseases like atherosclerosis.
Triglycerides are essentially stored calories that can build up in the bloodstream when we have too many. You’ll often have your triglycerides measured when you have a cholesterol test, like the at-home kit offered by Zizi.
What Foods Help Clear Arteries?
Getting your blood lipid levels — your triglyceride and LDL cholesterol — under control is a key way to clear up your arteries. Here are some foods that can help you keep your arteries happy and healthy.
Beans are packed with essential macro and micronutrients that keep our bodies functioning a their best.
First off, beans can be a great source of plant protein. Getting our protein from beans helps us avoid fatty red meats and other animal products we might normally turn to. These sources tend to be filled with saturated fats that can clog up our arteries.
Beans are packed with fiber as well, helping us feel full, which keeps us from returning to the fridge and getting more snacks than we need.
While some animal products have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, not all animal products have that effect.
In fact, fish like salmon are a nutrient-rich protein source that gives us essential vitamins like omega-3 fatty acids.
People who eat fish oil may be less likely to develop heart disease — the LDL-reducing properties of fish like salmon make it not just a delicious protein, but a food that can help us fight our chances of developing heart disease.
Nuts have been shown to help support a healthy heart. Even having nuts just twice a week has been shown to reduce the risk of developing heart disease by up to 27%.
Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, and other kinds of nuts help control LDL cholesterol levels while also supplying key vitamins and minerals like manganese and omega-3s.
Soy provides an alternative to red meats when it comes to protein. In addition to the benefits gained from avoiding proteins with saturated fats, soy has been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
A regular diet of 25 grams of soy a day — whether from tofu or soy milk —has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by up to 6%.
A key part of keeping your arteries clean is finding alternatives to those saturated fats. Avocados prove to be a solid choice.
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids that support your overall health without contributing to arterial plaque or bad cholesterol. Avocado can be easily incorporated into salads, on toast, in sandwiches, or on top of chili or stew. It’s a great way to charge up meals with a nutrient-rich alternative to cholesterol-heavy saturated fats.
6. Citrus Fruits
Fruits like oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits are rich in nutrients that help our body function properly. They may also have cholesterol-lowering benefits.
One of the primary compounds in many fruits, including citrus fruits, is pectin. It’s a starch that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables. There’s reason to believe that pectin may have LDL cholesterol-fighting benefits.
In a study involving people with hypercholesterolemia — high cholesterol levels — pectin was shown to help control this cholesterol.
Eggplant is a filling vegetable that may also be able to lower your cholesterol. Eggplant is a good source of soluble fiber, which can help keep you feeling full.
Soluble fiber can also reduce the amounts of cholesterol absorbed in the bloodstream. It’s low-calorie as well, so it may be a great way to feel full and keep off triglycerides.
How Can I Get Started With a Heart Healthy Diet?
A good diet starts with your shopping list.
Getting more foods like the ones listed above may be a great way to help you in your journey toward lower cholesterol levels. It’s not just picking the right foods, but also avoiding the wrong ones. Foods high in saturated fats, like processed meats and dairy products, packaged snacks, and greasy foods, may be best swapped out for fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains.
Eating right boils down to what makes it on your shopping list so that your kitchen is stocked with the food that will deliver cholesterol-lowering results.
It’s not always easy sticking to a diet, especially if we’re embarking on a new lifestyle change. At Zizi, we offer an easy-to-follow diet and exercise plan designed to help lower cholesterol levels.
When you remove the stress of building the right list, you give yourself the room to put more focus on sticking through with your diet.
Zizi Can Help
We’re dedicated to preventing heart disease by helping you lower your cholesterol levels. With Zizi, you can lower your cholesterol levels without medication.
Through a tailored program of cholesterol-lowering supplements, a plant first diet, and at-home cholesterol test kits, you’ll see your cholesterol levels drop first-hand.
Learn more about lowering your cholesterol in 30 days with Zizi’s Heart Health Reset program here, or your money back.