What you eat has a big effect on your cholesterol levels. Munch on these foods to fight inflammation and prevent plaque build-up.
Colleen Travers,Feb 4, 2020 • 4 min read
If you’re on cholesterol-lowering medication like atorvastatin (Lipitor) or simvastatin (Zocor), you may think as long as you take your meds and make it a point to move more throughout the day, you’re managing your condition as best as you can. But your diet can also have a big impact on your total cholesterol.
“Your cholesterol levels could be elevated for a number of reasons,” says Kathryn Hughes, RDN, a registered dietitian at Stony Brook Research Foundation in Commack, NY. “Genetics, certain medications you may be taking, and your physical activity all play a part. But your diet is extremely important, because what you eat can directly decrease LDL “bad” cholesterol and increase HDL “good” cholesterol.” Here, Hughes shares a cheat sheet on exactly what to eat so that you can lower your cholesterol and perhaps over time, stop taking your cholesterol medication all together.
What Is Cholesterol?
“Cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood,” says Hughes. “Your liver makes cholesterol, but we also consume it from our food.” Our bodies require a small amount of cholesterol to help build out cell structures, make hormones, and keep our metabolism humming along, but too much cholesterol in the blood (specifically LDL “bad” cholesterol) can stick to arteries, causing them to narrow and increasing the risk of heart attack and/or stroke. When this excess of LDL cholesterol is produced, the HDL “good” cholesterol can’t keep up with its job of sweeping LDL from your blood and back to your liver to be removed from the body.
High-Cholesterol Foods to Steer Clear Of
Statin medications work by reducing the liver’s production of cholesterol. But if you’re eating foods that contribute to LDL cholesterol production, the statin won’t be as effective as it should be. “To improve your cholesterol, first minimize your intake of certain animal products, such as fatty meats, cheese, high-fat dairy like ice cream, as well as fried foods and commercial baked goods,” says Hughes. “These foods tend to cause inflammation, which can eventually cause an increase in LDL cholesterol.” She adds that while foods like eggs and shellfish do have high amounts of cholesterol, it is primarily the HDL “good” kind that your body needs to help lower LDL. Both foods are also low in saturated fat, which studies show has a greater negative impact on cholesterol levels.
Foods to Eat to Lower Your Cholesterol
“Two nutrients important for improving cholesterol levels are fiber and omega-3 fatty acids,” says Hughes. That’s because soluble fiber (which absorbs water and turns into a gel-like substance during digestion) will help pull cholesterol out of the bloodstream, while omega-3 fatty acids raise HDL cholesterol levels and decrease triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood that can also contribute to narrowing the arteries). To manage your cholesterol levels, Hughes recommends making sure to eat a diet filled with the following foods:
Whole grains, including oats, barley, quinoa, and bulgur
Dark, leafy greens, such as kale and spinach
Legumes, including beans, peas, and lentils
Nuts and seeds, including almonds, walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds
Salmon (choose wild over farm-raised for higher levels of omega-3s)
If I Change My Diet, Will I Be Able to Get Off My Cholesterol Medication?
“For some individuals, a low-dose cholesterol medication will always be needed to manage cholesterol levels, especially if other factors are at play, such as age, family history, and other medications the patient is taking,” says Hughes. “However, with proper lifestyle changes, it is absolutely possible to no longer need cholesterol medication.”
Changes won’t happen overnight, so make sure to stay on top of your doctor’s appointments and discuss the lifestyle changes you’ve been making. This way, your provider can regularly monitor your cholesterol levels and assess whether you might be able to lower your dose or stop taking your cholesterol medication completely.
As you and your healthcare provider establish or revise your treatment plan, check to see if your prescription is available for less with Blink Health.