Nearly Americans has high cholesterol, a condition that ups your risk for heart disease and stroke but has no signs or symptoms. Scary, right? Thankfully, adding more veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, and whole grains to your diet can help lower your levels and reduce plaque buildup. Try these heart-healthy foods for the best nutrition-based benefits.
First, a quick explainer: Cholesterol is a waxy substance that travels through your bloodstream, but not all of it is bad. HDL cholesterol (a.k.a. "good" cholesterol) actually sweeps away LDL cholesterol, or the "bad" kind. A high LDL level puts you at risk for heart attacks and strokes because it can clog arteries with plaque, a condition called . A blood test can determine whether you have high cholesterol, and your doctor may recommend exercise or medication in addition to a healthier diet.
A baked potato actually provides more heart-healthy potassium than a banana. Getting an adequate amount of this all-important nutrient can also lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
Here's another potassium all-star, with vitamins A and C to boot. Tomatoes also contain the antioxidant lycopene, a compound to reducing LDL cholesterol levels in higher doses.
Whether you go fresh or canned, eating at least two servings of tuna per week slow the growth rate of plaque. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can also decrease levels, another risk factor for heart disease.
With 8 grams of fiber in just a cup, raspberries can move your numbers in the right direction. Eating adequate fiber (at least 25 grams per day) decreases LDL levels and supports healthy digestion.
Black beans are even more fiber-dense, with 8 grams in a half-cup, 100-calorie serving. You'll get plenty of filling plant-based protein too.
Science agrees: An apple a day may in fact keep your cardiologist away. Evidence has shown that frequent apple consumption may reduce total cholesterol. That’s thanks to the phenolic compounds found in apple skins — a.k.a. the antioxidant compounds that promote healthy cellular function and proper blood flow.
Pecans are chock-full of monounsaturated fatty acids, a type of fat linked with improving total cholesterol levels. Another benefit of these tasty tree nuts: Pecans are filled with plant-based antioxidants— including beta carotene and vitamin E — that protect cells from damage from chronic inflammation.
Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, parsnip, and other good-for-you tubers are lower in calories, filled with fiber, and chock-full of potassium and beta-carotene, both of which protect against heart disease.
Oats contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which is with lowering LDL levels. It does this by absorbing water in your GI tract and removing excess saturated fat before it enters your bloodstream.
Lentils are pulses, a.k.a. the dry edible seeds of certain crops (like beans, chickpeas, and peas). Pulses are just everywhere these days because they’re packed with plant-based protein and fiber, not to mention antioxidants, minerals, and B vitamins. All of those compounds help protect you from plaque buildup while optimizing blood flow and assisting your body in efficiently using the nutrients you consume.
Eating walnuts regularly was linked with a reduced risk of heart disease, according to data from the . Eating as little as one serving of these nuts each week can lower your chances of cardiovascular disease by up to 19%! Consider swapping walnuts for croutons in salads and soups; add ‘em to breakfast cereal or yogurt; or nosh on walnuts with fruit to reap the cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Flavor foods with herbs and spices whenever you can. It’ll help you cut back on condiments high in saturated fat while maximizing flavor. Spices and herbs also pack antioxidants, which can help improve cholesterol levels when combined with veggies. Ones we love: basil, cilantro, rosemary, sage, ginger, garlic, tarragon, black and red chili pepper, mint, and oregano.
Because they're rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats and fiber, avocados can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Clinical trials have consistently found that eating avocados can lower your LDL cholesterol, with a beneficial effect on lipid and lipoprotein profiles.
Some studies have connected eating blueberries regularly with decreased blood pressure. That’s thanks to their circulation-boosting effect on blood vessels (otherwise known as "vasodilation"), which slows the rate of atherosclerosis.
Cooking up more quinoa could lower your risk of heart disease by improving total cholesterol, triglycerides, and lowering LDL, . That’s thanks to the wholesome grain’s antioxidant, fiber, and B vitamin content that may improve blood flow.
As one of nature’s best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, salmon has many health benefits, including reducing inflammation and triglycerides.
Adding more leafy greens to your plate can help lower cholesterol by promoting your body production of nitric oxide (NO), which helps dilate blood vessels and reduce atherosclerosis.
Peanuts pack resveratrol and other phytosterols, compounds linked with blocking cholesterol absorption in the gut. The protein powerhouses also work in 8 grams in just 2 tablespoons of peanut butter!
Like other produce, grapes contain polyphenolic compounds that may reduce cellular damage. Eating about 1 to 2 cups of grapes per day can also help protect your tissues and decrease markers of inflammation.
This nightshade has been with reducing oxidative stress, a process that can lead to high cholesterol by initiating chronic inflammation and plaque formation.
Filled with plant-based antioxidants and minerals, this protein-packed dairy alternative can help improve your lipid levels. That’s because it’s lower in saturated fat than other vegan swaps (ahem, coconut oil). Unsweetened versions cut back on sneaky sources of added sugar, so use it in your morning latté for a cholesterol-lowering caffeine boost.
This overlooked cooking oil belongs in your pantry because it contains plant-sterols, compounds that decrease how much cholesterol-raising saturated fat your body absorbs. Plus, it’s packed with antioxidants like other plant-based oils: canola, olive, grapeseed, peanut, safflower, sunflower, and avocado.
Research has linked pistachios with raising while lowering LDL cholesterol. Since these nuts are fiber-rich and antioxidant-packed, they also protect your body's cells from oxidative stress, the damage that allows for plaque build-up in your arteries.