The main types of cholesterol to keep in mind are:
- LDL (low density lipoprotein), a type of protein that binds with cholesterol and carries it to tissues throughout the body, including the arteries, where it can build up and form a substance called plaque. Over time, it can narrow and harden the artery, a condition called atherosclerosis. Because of this, LDL cholesterol is called the bad cholesterol. There is more LDL cholesterol than any other kind in the body.
- HDL (high density lipoprotein) is the good cholesterol. It carries unneeded cholesterol away from the tissues to the liver, which removes it from the body. The lower the level of HDL cholesterol in your body, the higher your risk of heart disease.
When we choose what we eat each day, the good-health goal is to lower the level of LDL cholesterol and raise the level of HDL cholesterol in the blood. Foods with naturally low levels of cholesterol in them, or foods that can help to remove LDL cholesterol from the blood include:
- Lean meats like skinless chicken and turkey. Stick to the white meat, which is lowest in overall cholesterol. Other meats, such as extra lean ground beef or cuts of beef with all the excess fat trimmed away, are also lower in LDL cholesterol.
- Fish like salmon, lake trout, halibut, albacore tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring are all low in cholesterol. Theyre also rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can lower LDLs, blood pressure, and the risk of blood clots.
- Whole grains like oatmeal and barley have lots of soluble (dissolvable) fiber in them. It binds with excess cholesterol and escorts it out of the body before it can enter the bloodstream.
- Beans are a high protein food that are high in soluble fiber. Theyre a good meat substitute.
- Mushrooms are low in cholesterol but high in vitamins and minerals. Theyre a great substitute for meat.
- Fruits like apples, grapes, strawberries and all citrus fruits are rich in pectin, a soluble fiber. Other fruits with edible peels are, too. And all are full of vitamins.
- Vegetable oils like sunflower, canola, safflower, and extra-virgin olive oil are full of antioxidants that lower LDL cholesterol. Theyre high in calories, though, so use sparingly.
- Nuts like walnuts and almonds, help lower LDLs. Theyre also filling and rich in polyunsaturated fats that help keep blood vessels healthy.
Finally, avoid processed foods when you can. Many of them have high-cholesterol ingredients, not to mention high sodium and calories. A healthy diet of real food, prepared fresh and with an eye toward nutrition is the easy way to keep cholesterol levels under control.
Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer. She also writes a blog about living well with rheumatoid arthritis called RheumaBlog, where she writes under the pen name Wren. In her spare time, Vandever enjoys cooking, reading writing for Healthline.com, and working on the Great American Novel.
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