Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
You just got your lipid panel back, and your LDL levels are too high. If your first thought is “I don’t want to go on medication,” then you’ve come to the right place! Zizi is here to help you lower your “bad” cholesterol levels naturally, from the comfort of your own home.
If you stay active, manage your weight, and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you are well on your way to lowering your LDL levels naturally, without leaving your house. In fact, changing what foods you eat to achieve a well-balanced diet plays a huge role in living a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Zizi is here to walk you through the best options to include in your heart-healthy diet plan.
At Zizi, we believe in the most simple, straightforward path toward heart health, which is why our plan incorporates what we like to call commonsense care.
Why Should I Lower LDL Cholesterol?
Not all dietary cholesterol is bad.
Cholesterol is a waxy lipid that you naturally have in your body — the lipid is normal to find in your bloodstream and is necessary for bodily processes and functions.
However, when cholesterol deposits on your artery walls, as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol does, it creates an opportunity for buildup that can lead to narrow or blocked arteries. As such, LDL cholesterol puts you at an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Lowering your LDL numbers can reduce your risk for heart attack or stroke because it lowers the number of fatty deposits which create plaque buildup that can narrow, harden, or even completely block your artery walls.
What Foods Help Lower Cholesterol?
Luckily, there is a wide variety of different food options to help lower your LDL levels. Different foods lower cholesterol in different ways, too, depending on their nutritional value and source. Foods rich in soluble fiber make it hard for your digestive tract to absorb cholesterol, for example. Soluble fiber binds cholesterol in your digestive system, carrying it out of your bloodstream before it can even enter.
Foods that contain plant sterols inhibit your body’s ability to absorb cholesterol, and foods high in polyunsaturated fats directly target and lower blood cholesterol levels.
Most meal plans aiming to lower cholesterol levels include lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, and lean meats or plant-derived proteins.
You should not have to sacrifice flavor or taste in your meal plan, which is why we have picked some suggestions that are delicious and easy to include in your meals.
Heart health starts at home. Let’s explore some options.
1. Oats and Oat Bran
Oats and oat bran are great sources of soluble fiber to help block your body’s cholesterol absorption before LDL can even enter your bloodstream.
If you eat just one serving of oatmeal a day, you fuel your body with one to two grams of soluble fiber out of the recommended five to ten grams a day. Fruits such as bananas and strawberries pair well as delicious oatmeal toppings, and add an extra half of a gram of fiber to your daily intake. You can top it all off with a tablespoon of nut butter for some healthy fats and protein.
Whole grains like barley, oats, and oat bran are a great source of soluble fiber to lower your LDL levels. Barley is a great option to include in a salad at lunchtime, or as a side with some lean protein, like fish or chicken, and vegetables on your dinner plate.
Beans are rich in soluble fiber and present a nice plethora of menu options for you to choose from.
Try some lentils in a soup or in a grain and salad bowl, black beans is a taco salad, or kidney beans in a delicious chili. Beans take a long time for your body to digest, which means you can feel full for longer and have an easier time managing your weight.
4. Fiber-Rich Fruits, Like Bananas and Strawberries
There are certain fruits that are rich in fiber compared to others. These fruits contain pectin, which is a specific type of soluble fiber that contributes to lower LDL levels.
Berries, citrus fruits, apples, and grapes are pectin-rich and easy to incorporate into your diet at breakfast, snack time, lunchtime, or for dessert.
5. Fiber-Rich Vegetables, Like Eggplant and Okra
Vegetables are another great fiber source and are also low in calories because they contain high water content.
In particular, eggplant and okra have high amounts of soluble fiber. Eggplant is also rich in antioxidants to benefit your body’s natural processes and functions.
6. Nuts and Seeds
Whether it’s peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, or another type of nut, nuts are well-known for their heart-healthy nutritional value. They not only help lower LDL levels but also boost your heart health in various other ways.
When it comes to LDL in particular, nuts are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, and eating just two ounces of nuts a day can help reduce your bad cholesterol levels.
Nuts also contain plant sterols and stanols to help directly lower your LDL levels. Seeds like chia or flax seeds are also rich in healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids.
7. Soy-Based Products
Soybeans, as well as soy-derived products including tofu and soymilk, possess plant sterols and stanols as an effective way to lower your LDL cholesterol.
Avocados are rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that, similar to polyunsaturated fatty acid, helps lower bad cholesterol levels. Eating just one avocado a day can help lower your LDL levels and aid in weight management.
9. Dark Chocolate
Don’t skip out on the sweet stuff! Remember that changing your diet to reflect heart-healthy options does not mean that your diet has to sacrifice taste, good flavor, or fun.
It’s never fun to restrict or deny yourself of foods, especially when it comes to dessert. Incorporate some dark chocolate into your diet to supply your body with flavonoids, which are antioxidants that target and lower LDL levels.
Just make sure you enjoy it in moderation because chocolate is high in saturated fat and sugar.
What Heart-Healthy Meals Can I Make With These Foods?
There are so many different meal options to choose from that incorporate these various food bases.
Oats or oat bran are great breakfast options. Not only can you make delicious oatmeal bowls, but you can also make granola or healthy, whole-wheat muffins or breakfast bars. Top with nut butter and enjoy some fruit and Greek yogurt on the side.
When it comes to barley, try a barley and arugula salad for lunch, topped with nuts, avocado, beans, and cherry tomatoes, or a nice salmon dinner on a bed of barley with steamed vegetables on the side.
Beans are perfect in many different dishes, such as stews, casseroles, salads, and burrito bowls. In addition, tofu has many unique meal options — try making a stir fry with tofu, vegetables, and whole grain rice, for example.
Fortify With Plant Sterols
As we mentioned, plant sterols are a great way to target your LDL levels because they lower levels in the same way that soluble fiber does: they block your body from absorbing cholesterol. In addition to soy-based products like tofu or soy milk, you can incorporate foods that have added plant sterols to help moderate your LDL levels.
Look for margarine or orange juices whose labels say “enriched with plant sterols,” for example.
Even granola bars and certain chocolate brands enrich their options with plant sterols sometimes. If you eat just two grams of plant sterols a day, you can lower your LDL levels by up to 10%.
What Foods Should I Avoid?
In general, you should avoid processed meats like sausage or bacon; full-fat cheese, butter, milk, or other dairy products; and coconut and palm oil. These foods are all high in saturated fat, which contributes to higher total cholesterol levels.
Cakes and pastries are also high in saturated fat, and sugary foods and drinks in general, as well as alcohol, contribute to weight gain that increases your risk for heart disease.
You should try to limit or avoid margarine, fried foods, or other options high in trans fat because this type of fat can also raise your LDL cholesterol levels while simultaneously lowering your good, or HDL, cholesterol levels.
Finally, although salt does not directly contribute to high cholesterol levels, it can raise your blood pressure and put you at an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure coupled with high cholesterol is an even greater risk to your heart health.
For the best results when trying to lower your LDL levels with a heart-healthy diet, try incorporating several LDL-lowering food options into your meal plan as opposed to just one or two.
Start small — every little bit counts and the most important thing to remember is that you should do whatever works best for you, at your own pace.
Make Actionable, Incremental Diet Changes With Zizi
A healthy and well-balanced diet is a great way to target and lower your LDL cholesterol levels.
When you start to eat healthier and incorporate diet changes that are kind to your heart, you help pave the way for other lifestyle changes that also help lower your risk for heart disease.
A healthier, more nutritious diet fuels your body with longer-lasting energy that improves your mood, helps you stay active, and maintains or decreases your body weight.
At Zizi, we understand that heart health starts at home with commonsense care. Small changes such as ongoing testing, natural supplements, a little bit of physical activity, and a healthy diet, can all drastically lower your propensity for heart disease and improve your overall lifestyle.
When you sign up for our cholesterol-lowering plan, you gainaccess to our heart-health course, which contains one new lesson and one small change each week for six months, so that you can easily achieve your cholesterol goals without feeling overwhelmed.
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