Reducing Cholesterol Naturally
Almost 50% of American adults have total cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dl, placing them at risk for cardiovascular disease – elevated cholesterol is one of the most important risk factors for heart disease.1 Elevated cholesterol is also associated with increased risk of several cancers.2
A high-nutrient diet is by far the most effective method of reducing cholesterol while avoiding side effects. A dietary intervention study using my recommended eating style found that LDL cholesterol was reduced by 33% in just 6 weeks. Similar six-week interventions using low-fat vegetarian, Mediterranean, or other diets have not been nearly as effective.3-6
Statin drugs are also not as effective for reducing cholesterol as an excellent diet coupled with exercise. After six weeks of taking cholesterol-lowering statin medications, cholesterol levels decreased by 26% – almost as much as a high nutrient diet, but statins have harmful side effects compared to the healthful benefits of a high nutrient diet.7 Statins are associated with liver dysfunction, acute renal failure, cataracts, diabetes, and impaired muscle function.8 In contrast, not only will a high nutrient diet lower cholesterol, it will also decrease heart disease risk by improving other factors such glucose levels, blood pressure, inflammation, and body weight.
The safest and healthiest strategy for reducing cholesterol and preventing future heart attacks and strokes starts with eating a high nutrient, vegetable-based diet with plenty of raw and cooked vegetables.9, 10 In particular, follow these 8 simple rules to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and to protect against heart disease:
- Eat at least one cup of beans every day. Beans are packed with resistant starch, soluble fiber, and phytochemicals, which help to lower cholesterol – a pooled analysis of 10 trials found that consuming beans regularly significantly reduced total and LDL cholesterol.11 Plus, a 19-year study found that people who eat beans at least four times a week have a 22% lower risk of heart disease than those who eat beans less than once a week.12
- Eat at least one ounce of raw nuts and seeds daily. When eaten regularly, nuts not only reduce total and LDL cholesterol, but also aid in weight control, reduce the glycemic load of the diet, and reduce heart disease risk by 35%. Nuts and seeds have a variety of heart healthy nutrients, including plant sterols, antioxidants, minerals, and arginine.13-16 Include walnuts in your diet for their omega-3 and other heart protective benefits.
- Eat one large green salad each day, and include raw onion. Higher leafy green and cruciferous vegetable intake is linked to lower risk of heart disease. 9, 17, 18
- Eat steamed green vegetables with every lunch and dinner. Recent research suggests that phytochemicals from green vegetables can turn on the body’s natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection mechanisms.
- Include tomatoes/tomato sauce, berries and/or pomegranate in your diet daily. The antioxidants in berries and pomegranates, such as anthocyanins and punicalagin, are especially effective in improving both LDL and HDL cholesterol.19, 20 Many observational studies have made a connection between higher blood lycopene (the signature carotenoid of the tomato) and lower risk of heart attack. 21-23
- Have 1 Tbsp. of ground flax or chia seeds plus a DHA supplement each day. Flaxseeds contain the beneficial omega-3 ALA, lignans, flavonoids, sterols, and fiber. Clinical trials show that daily flaxseed consumption reduces total cholesterol by 6-11%.24 Chia seeds are also rich in ALA and fiber, and taking a DHA supplement ensures adequacy of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, because conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA varies greatly among individuals.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates and added oils. Processed foods are full of these calorie-dense, nutrient-poor ingredients that promote weight gain and increase heart disease risk .25-27
- Minimize animal products to less than 5 percent of total calories per week. If you have heart disease or significantly high cholesterol, avoid animal products altogether. Higher animal product consumption is linked to increased heart disease risk.28
1. Roger VL, Go AS, Lloyd-Jones DM, et al: Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics--2012 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation 2012;125:e2-e220.
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20. Aviram M, Rosenblat M, Gaitini D, et al: Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation. Clin Nutr 2004;23:423-433.
21. Rissanen TH, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, et al: Low serum lycopene concentration is associated with an excess incidence of acute coronary events and stroke: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Br J Nutr 2001;85:749-754.
22. Rissanen T, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, et al: Lycopene, atherosclerosis, and coronary heart disease. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2002;227:900-907.
23. Rissanen TH, Voutilainen S, Nyyssonen K, et al: Serum lycopene concentrations and carotid atherosclerosis: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;77:133-138.
24. Bassett CM, Rodriguez-Leyva D, Pierce GN: Experimental and clinical research findings on the cardiovascular benefits of consuming flaxseed. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2009;34:965-974.
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26. Sieri S, Krogh V, Berrino F, et al: Dietary glycemic load and index and risk of coronary heart disease in a large italian cohort: the EPICOR study. Arch Intern Med 2010;170:640-647.
27. Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, et al: Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Intern Med 2014.
28. Menotti A, Kromhout D, Blackburn H, et al: Food intake patterns and 25-year mortality from coronary heart disease: cross-cultural correlations in the Seven Countries Study. The Seven Countries Study Research Group. Eur J Epidemiol 1999;15:507-515.