The doctor said you need to work on your cholesterol numbers. What does that even mean?
It means if you don’t do something, you’re likely to get a buildup of sticky gunk called plaque in your arteries. That’s the stuff that leads to heart disease, and it’s bad news.
You can fix the problem with changes to what you eat every day. And you don’t have to give up taste to do it. The trick is to work foods into your diet that are known to lower cholesterol.
Instead of Mayonnaise, Try Avocado
There’s more to avocados than tasty guacamole. They can lower your LDL “bad” cholesterol, the kind that helps create plaque.
Not only do they mix healthy fats and fiber, they also have sterols. These are compounds found in plants that bring cholesterol down, says researcher Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, from Pennsylvania State University.
Sneak more in: Slather avocado on sandwich bread as a replacement for mayo. Add slices to your salads, burgers, and tacos in place of cheese.
Instead of Iceberg Lettuce, Try Swiss Chard
Dark greens like chard, kale, and spinach are a great source of antioxidants, substances found in food that keep your cells healthy. One type, carotenoids, can lower your LDL levels.
As a bonus, these plants also have lutein and zeaxanthin. They boost your HDL “good” cholesterol, the kind that gets rid of the bad. A rule of thumb: The darker the veggie’s color, the more nutrients it packs.
Sneak more in: Add chopped Swiss chard to scrambled eggs, pots of chili, and pasta. Larger leaves make crispy stand-ins for tortillas when you make wraps and tacos.
Instead of Chips, Try Walnuts
Craving a crunchy snack? Grab a handful of walnuts. Make these bite-sized goodies a regular treat and you could see good changes in both your LDL and HDL readings.
Almonds, pecans and pistachios are also linked to better cholesterol numbers and heart health.That’s likely due to their healthy fats, fiber, protein, and sterols, says Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD, a sports nutritionist in Louisville, KY.
You can’t just add handfuls of nuts to your diet though, he says. Sub them in for high calorie, less healthy treats like chips or candy.
Sneak more in: Sprinkle nuts on salads, yogurt, and oatmeal.
Instead of Beef, Try Beans
A daily serving (3/4 cup) of legumes -- beans, chickpeas, and lentils -- can help. Beans are also a great source of protein. And they have vitamins and minerals that help keep you healthy as you get older.
“Beans and other legumes supply plenty of soluble fiber, which acts like a sponge in your digestive tract,” Mohr says. They help your body absorb less cholesterol and move it out of your system faster.
Sneak more in: Use legumes instead of ground meat in tacos, pasta sauce, and even burgers. Trade your sour-cream-based dip for a chickpea hummus. Enjoy with sliced vegetables, not chips. Toss cooked lentils with chopped vegetables and a vinegar dressing for workday lunches.
Instead of Toast, Try Steel-cut Oats
Start your day with oatmeal. This whole grain is laced with a type of fiber called beta-glucan that helps zap LDL.
“It may prevent your body from absorbing cholesterol from food,” Mohr says.
Oats also have fiber, which keeps you feeling full and staves off snacking. Pair oatmeal with protein like a hard-boiled egg or Greek yogurt.
Sneak more in: Toss some ground fiber and omega-3-rich flaxseed into your morning oatmeal for more cholesterol-cutting power.
Instead of Beer, Try Red Wine
A staple in the ultra-healthy Mediterranean diet, red wine can lower LDL while raising your HDL. Credit goes to resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red grape skin.
Sneak more in: Eh, skip this. Enjoy it in moderation -- no more than 2 glasses a day.