To lower your cholesterol, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute recommends keeping your intake of dietary cholesterol below 200 milligrams per day and increasing your intake of soluble fiber by 5 to 10 grams per day. It also suggests that no more than 7 percent of your total caloric intake come from fat. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and eating the right foods each day, can also be helpful.
The Cause of High Cholesterol
Cholesterol, a waxy substance within your cells, travels throughout your bloodstream inside lipoproteins. High-density lipoproteins, or HDL, carry cholesterol out of your body, while low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, hold on to cholesterol, causing it to build up and form plaque in your arteries. Eating foods high in LDL cholesterol increases your risk of complications from arterial plaque, which can cause a blockage that leads to a heart attack or stroke, so avoiding these foods can help protect you from serious cardiovascular problems.
Foods high in soluble fiber help lower your cholesterol by inhibiting your body's absorption of cholesterol as it moves through your bloodstream. In 1999, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health published a study in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" offering a meta-analysis of 67 controlled trials indicating that people who increase their soluble fiber intake by 2 to 10 grams a day experience small but significant decreases in their total cholesterol levels. Since then, more research has yielded similar results.
Nuts and Legumes
According to a group of researchers who published a study in the "Journal of Nutrition" in September 2008, nuts and legumes high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as pecans, pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and pistachios, provide tocopherols and phenolic antioxidants, compounds that play a role in your body's ability to process cholesterol. Snacking on these foods can cause less cholesterol to remain in your bloodstream, reducing the amount of plaque that forms in your arteries.
Increasing your fish intake may help lower your cholesterol, according to researchers who monitored the diets of 1,000 people, half of whom lived in areas of high fish consumption. In 2002, they published the study in "Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition" reporting that those with high amounts of fish in their diets had significantly lower LDL levels than those who rarely ate fish. According to the Mayo Clinic, fatty fish -- including mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon and halibut -- are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglycerides. Flaxseed and canola oil are also rich sources of omega-3.
Oatmeal, apples, barley, pears, kidney beans and dried plums, or prunes, are high in soluble fiber and could help lower your LDL cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic. Colorado State University lists 100-percent all-bran cereal as a rich source of fiber, with 8.8 grams per 1/2-cup serving. Other high-fiber foods include a cup of blackberries with 7.6 grams of fiber, a cup of baked beans with 10.4 grams and a cup of split peas with 16.3 grams.
Foods to Avoid
Limit your intake of foods high in dietary cholesterol. If you eat eggs, use only the whites, as one egg yolk has approximately 184 milligrams of cholesterol. Eat beef and organ meats sparingly. A 4-ounce serving of beef liver has 500 milligrams of cholesterol, according to the University of Delaware, and a 3 1/2-ounce serving of cooked shrimp contains 95 milligrams. Dairy products are also high in cholesterol. A tablespoon of butter has 31 milligrams of cholesterol and an 8-ounce glass of whole milk has 35 milligrams. Substitute these foods with reduced-cholesterol alternatives, such as skim milk or nondairy products.
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: Your Guide to Lowering Cholesterol With Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes
- U.S. Department of Agriculture -- Nutrient Database: Egg Yolk
- University of Delaware: Cholesterol
- Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Influence of Fish Consumption on the Distribution of Serum Cholesterol in Lipoprotein Fractions: Comparative Study Among Fish-Consuming and Non-Fish-Consuming Populations
- MayoClinic.com: Cholesterol: Top Five Foods to Lower Your Numbers
Maia Appleby is a NASM-certified personal trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the fitness industry. Her articles have been published in a wide variety of print magazines and online publications, including the Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, New Moon Network and Bodybuilding.com.