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Lower Cholesterol Naturally: 12 Foods That Could Help

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/ 5/2012 8:04 am

Cholesterol gets a bad rap. In fact, our bodies need some cholesterol. The waxy substance travels through the blood, helping in the production of some hormones and Vitamin D.

But our bodies take care of this all on their own, producing all the cholesterol we need on a day-to-day basis. It is the dietary choices we make every day that contribute to our elevated cholesterol levels.

When cholesterol gets too high, we're in trouble. Cholesterol, along with other substances, can build up in the arteries, creating the plaques that cause heart disease.

So what is too high when it comes to cholesterol? There are a few important markers your doctor will test for:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL or "bad" cholesterol -- this type contributes the most to buildup in the arteries
  • HDL or "good" cholesterol -- this type actually helps keep arteries clear
  • Triglycerides -- an additional type of fat in the blood

A healthy total cholesterol is under 200 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). LDL cholesterol should be under 100 mg/dL, and ideal HDL is above 60 mg/dL. Optimal triglyceride levels are below 150 mg/dL.

Because people with high cholesterol are at a greater risk of heart disease, it's important to take steps to keep levels in the healthy range. If cholesterol levels are high, some people opt for cholesterol-lowering mediations or supplements. Others make lifestyle changes; losing weight, exercising and eating a healthy diet can all lower cholesterol.

There are certain heart-healthy foods that are especially worth incorporating. Click through the slideshow below to see 12 foods that could lower your cholesterol. Then tell us in the comments what heart-healthy diet changes you've made.

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  • Oats And Barley

    When it comes to heart health, we can't stop singing the praises of oatmeal. But other grains, like barley, are also healthy picks. Both are packed with fiber -- which helps keep you full for longer so you reach for the chips less. But fiber does more than just keep you slim. Soluble fiber, the kind that the body can digest, seems to <a href="" target="_hplink">reduce the amount of cholesterol the body absorbs</a> from the intestines, <a href="" target="_hplink">lowering total cholesterol</a> and LDL or "bad" cholesterol in the process. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Mr. T in DC</a></em>

  • Fish

    You might think that fatty fish could be detrimental to your ticker, but the right seafood can lower cholesterol for a couple of reasons. First, eating more fish might mean that you're <a href="" target="_hplink">replacing meat in your diet</a>, and meat contains more LDL-boosting saturated fats. Second, fish like salmon, sardines and albacore tuna are <a href="" target="_hplink">high in omega-3 fatty acids</a>, which have been shown to <a href="" target="_hplink">lower triglycerides</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">DesheBoard</a></em>

  • Nuts

    Toss them in salads, sprinkle them on oatmeal or snack on them by the perfectly-portioned handful. Just about any variety of nut can <a href="" target="_hplink">lower total cholesterol</a>, LDL and triglyceride levels, according to a 2010 analysis of data from 25 studies on nut consumption. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">tvol</a></em>

  • Olive Oil

    Swapping the saturated fats found in butter for the unsaturated ones in oils is a good idea for both your waistline and your heart. Doing so can help <a href="" target="_hplink">reduce total cholesterol</a>, but using olive oil in particular may also <a href="" target="_hplink">increase HDL, or "good" cholesterol</a>.

  • Apples

    A medium-sized apple contains about <a href="" target="_hplink">4 grams of LDL-lowering soluble fiber</a>, or about 17 percent of your recommended daily intake. An apple a day can <a href="" target="_hplink">keep the heart doctor away</a>! <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">manitou2121</a></em>

  • Strawberries

    Strawberries are <a href="" target="_hplink">rich in pectin</a>, a type of soluble fiber that can lower LDL. One study found that supplementing a heart-healthy diet with strawberries had <a href="" target="_hplink">similar results to adding oats to a heart-healthy diet</a> -- and tasted better, too! <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Plinkk</a></em>

  • Citrus Fruits

    You'll also find <a href="" target="_hplink">pectin in oranges</a>, grapefruits and other citrus fruits. And adding more fiber to your diet can <a href="" target="_hplink">lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation</a>, both of which help your heart. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">little blue hen</a></em>

  • Beans And Lentils

    Kidney, navy, garbanzos -- your favorite beans and lentils are all great sources of soluble fiber, which helps keep you full and can reduce cholesterol. A 2008 study from Arizona State University found that people who ate a half-cup of beans a day (at the time, the recommended amount according to the <a href="" target="_hplink">U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans</a>) over a 24-week period lowered their cholesterol by 8 percent. If you eat around 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day, aim for a <a href="" target="_hplink"> cup and a half to two cups of beans a week</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">tomcensani</a></em>

  • Soy

    Like with fish, if you're eating soy, chances are you're eating less meat, which is higher in saturated fat and cholesterol. Soy is unique in the fact that it's a great source of protein, and yet it's free of any animal products, so it's also cholesterol free. However, it's not the <a href="" target="_hplink">cholesterol-busting superpower</a> it was once touted to be. A 2010 study found that eating soy can result in a moderate 8 to 10 percent <a href="" target="_hplink">decrease in total cholesterol</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Rooey202</a></em>

  • Red Wine

    You probably already know that a little alcohol -- in moderation of course -- is good for you. Part of the reason why? A 2000 study established that occasion clinking of glasses can <a href="" target="_hplink">raise HDL, or "good" cholesterol</a>. Red wine may be particularly beneficial, since it's rich in antioxidants, which may <a href="" target="_hplink">lower LDL levels</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Dinner Series</a></em>

  • Avocados

    Like olive oil, avocados are rich in cholesterol-lowering unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats, the ones found in the creamy green fruit, may lower LDL and raise HDL -- but probably only if you are <a href="" target="_hplink"><em>replacing</em> unhealthier dietary fats with these heart-healthy ones</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">annethelibrarian</a></em>

  • Green Tea

    The miracle drink has been linked to everything from <a href="" target="_hplink">fighting cancer to keeping the mind sharp</a>, but few studies have truly explained <em>why</em> green tea is such a powerful health elixir and just how much of it you'd need to drink to see results. While it does appear to lower "bad" cholesterol, it's <a href="" target="_hplink">only a slight reduction</a> -- and you'd probably have to drink quite a few mugs full to see a difference. Chugging green tea isn't a good idea for everyone; <a href="" target="_hplink">it can interfere with some medications</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Qfamily</a></em>

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For more on cholesterol, click here.