(NaturalNews) Almost 15 percent of American adults have high levels of cholesterol, putting them at risk for stroke, heart disease and other serious health issues that can significantly increase the risk of mortality. (1) For many, cholesterol-controlling drugs called statins have become a mainstay, yet despite the widespread use of statins, recent studies have shown that using them long-term may also pose serious risks.
Turning to medication for every ailment is a deeply entrenched habit associated with Western culture, but the fact is, there are alternatives for controlling cholesterol that don't include medicine. These approaches rely on a few simple dietary changes that can help reduce cholesterol significantly.
What is cholesterol anyway?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is derived from different types of foods -- both meats and vegetables. Some cholesterol is good for the body, playing an essential role in metabolizing some vitamins and minerals. But too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol can build up along the sides of blood vessels, impeding blood flow and often causing clots.
There are two types of cholesterol -- so-called "bad" and "good" cholesterols. Low-density lipoproteins, or LDLs, are considered "bad," because they can turn into artery-clogging plaque, a substance that sticks to vessel walls, blocking blood flow and making vessels less flexible. "Good" cholesterol is found in high-density lipoproteins, also called HDL. HDL actually acts as a scavenger, helping remove LDL from the bloodstream, so less plaque builds up.
For many people, high cholesterol levels are easily managed by just a few changes to their diet. Here are a few of the most common foods that can help you manage cholesterol:
Beans "Beans, beans, the magical fruit...." Turns out, they actually are pretty magical when it comes to helping lower levels of LDL cholesterol. A recent study from Canada showed that just one 3/4-cup serving of beans, chickpeas or lentils per day could cut LDL levels by as much as 5 percent. Beans are full of soluble fiber which helps remove LDL from the blood. All that fiber can also help promote healthy digestion and even reduce the risk of colon cancer. Not crazy about the, ahem, side effect of eating beans? Turns out, incorporating beans more often into your diet helps your body adjust to the increase in fiber, so the gassy effects can also be reduced over time.
Oatmeal Like beans, oats contain that LDL-lowering soluble fiber too. The fiber in oatmeal helps reduce the amount of "bad" cholesterol that can absorbed into the bloodstream. Many grocery stores carry products that are made with oat bran, but you can skip the middle man by simply eating more oatmeal. All it takes is about a cup and a half to get 6 grams of fiber. Experts recommend 5 to 10 grams per day to reduce LDL. Pump up the fiber by chopping up an apple or a banana for an additional 4 to 5 grams.
Tea Prefer to drink to your health? Then tea is the way to go. Just three cups of green or black tea each day are all that's need to get the maximum LDL-lowering benefits of tea, and tea also provides a significant source of antioxidants called polyphenols that can help ward off certain cancers. (2) Tea also boosts levels of "good" HDL. Like to drink your tea iced? It makes no difference -- the benefits are the same.
Olive oil It's true that many of the fats we eat contain high levels of LDL cholesterol, but one fat that can actually help battle "bad" cholesterol is olive oil. Olive oil is one of the mainstays of the "Mediterranean" diet that's been touted in the news recently for its substantial health benefits. You only need to add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to your diet each day in order to reap the benefits. Mix it with herbs to make a flavorful dip for bread or use it in a dressing for fresh vegetables. Choose extra-virgin olive oil to get the most benefits.
Fish Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and even tuna contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, proven to reduce blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fatty fish each week to keep your heart healthy. (3) If you can't stand the taste of fish, you can find fish oil tablets to supplement your diet, but you'll miss out on many of the other minerals and nutrients found in fish. Another source of omega-3s: flaxseed. Grind it up first to release the healthful benefits and sprinkle the ground seed on foods before eating.
In addition to making a few dietary changes, don't neglect those other heart-healthy steps you can take that also help lower cholesterol, like regular aerobic exercise. Like dietary changes, exercise doesn't have to be complicated or extreme: Simply taking regular walks can yield amazing benefits.