MYST 170: Reducing Your Cholesterol (part 2)

How to help your cholesterol numbers without medication?

Studies show that some foods, when consumed regularly over a 6-week period, can reduce our LDL, triglycerides and total cholesterol, and others can increase our HDL. Some of these studies suggest percentages of improvement. Remember that a study is not necessarily real life, so you can’t assume you will achieve those values, but it is a start. First things first:

Limit Sat Fat: Why is saturated fat so bad for your heart and blood vessels? The liver uses saturated fat to make cholesterol, so eating foods with too much saturated fat can increase cholesterol levels, especially LDL. Saturated fats are usually found in animal products such as whole milk, cream, butter, and cheese, and meats, such as beef, lamb, and pork. There are some plant-based saturated fats you should avoid too, notably palm kernel oil, coconut oil, and vegetable shortening.

Yes, that means I am telling you to stop using coconut oil. I know that some research suggests it may be different and not as bad as other saturated fats. Personally, I’ll err on the side of caution. I know saturated fats will cause problems, and that outweighs the fact that it may not cause as many problems as thought.

Now, what should you eat?

If you know you want menu ideas, just click here.

Whole grains like oatmeal barley and brown rice have lots of soluble fiber, which has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol by reducing the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream and can drop LDL up to 5%  Try switching out your regular pasta for the whole-grain version, or use brown rice instead of white. You can add dry oatmeal to your fruit smoothie for added body, but no change in flavor.

Red wine drops LDL 9-12% Red wine contains resveratrol, which may prevent damage to blood vessels by reducing the risk of blood clots.

Drinking too much alcohol can cause a host of other health issues, however; while a glass of red wine at dinner is fine, don’t overdo it. Also, wine has calories to consider. On average, wine is about 25 calories per fluid ounce (per 30mL). If you are going to drink wine, measure it every time, don’t just pour it into your goblet. A five-ounce portion will add 125 calories. If you free-pour and end up with just six ounces in your glass, that is 25 calories extra. Over a full year, that adds up to 9.125 calories, or the equivalent to 2.6 pounds!

Photos via Pixabay by Eagletonc

High Omega-3 Fatty Acid Fish raise HDL up to 4%. Fish like salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, mackerel and river trout are all rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce triglycerides in the blood. Aim for 8 ounces of fish a week, and bake or grill the fish — don’t fry it — to keep it healthy. Non-fatty fish (cod, haddock, tilapia, are healthy sources of protein, and still offer some omega-3 benefit, but not as much.)

Photos via Pixabay by Meditations

Tree Nuts drops LDL up to 5%. Nuts are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, so almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, or pistachios can help reduce your LDL levels with their high levels of plant sterols. Try sprinkling them on your salad, or eat them right out of hand as a snack. Just be sure to choose the low-salt option, and keep it to about 1 ounce a day — nuts are also high in calories. For almonds, that’s about 28 almonds or 1/4 cup, and will add 180-200 calories to your daily consumption. That isn’t terrible, but you need to plan for it. (Peanuts do not have the same effect.)

Tea (especially green, but white an black are good, too—but not herbal) reduces total lipids by up to 10% Both black and green teas contain powerful antioxidants that may reduce cholesterol levels. Green tea typically contains more of these antioxidant powerhouses, as it is made from unfermented leaves and is less processed. Note: you need to drink 6-12 cups a day for this beneficial effect to occur. Remember that this will add caffeine to your day. If you are sensitive to caffeine or have high blood pressure, this may not be a good choice. I enjoy green tea with fresh ginger, and maybe just a bit of raw honey (1 teaspoon).

Fruit Pears and apples have a lot of pectin, which is a type of fiber that can lower cholesterol. So do citrus fruits like oranges and lemons. Berries are also high in fiber. I add 1/4 cup blueberries to my morning oatmeal. One study showed a daily grapefruit can reduce total cholesterol by 15%, LDL by 20% and triglycerides by 17%. Two-three kiwi fruits a day for 28 days has shown a 15% triglyceride reduction. The key here is not that you must eat the same fruit every day, but that you eat some sort of fruit every day.

Vegetables Most vegetables are high in fiber and low in calories. Let’s get specific. Which are the BEST vegetables for this goal of reducing cholesterol?

Photos via Pixabay by Jill111

Eggplant and okra contain high amounts of soluble fiber. Eggplants are also high in antioxidants. (Personal confession here: I detest okra. I’ve tried it in several different dishes, and have yet to find a reason to add this to my diet.)

Radishes Their red hue is due to anthocyanins, a group of phytochemical compounds that has been shown to reduce inflammation, insulin resistance, and bad cholesterol. In a Japanese study, rats fed radishes for three weeks showed reduced levels of bad cholesterol and insulin and a boost in good cholesterol. Use them as a salad garnish, taco-topper, or my preference:  eatinng them whole as a high-fiber, belly-filling snack. (If you want to start a garden, radishes will go from seed to ready for harvest in about three weeks.)

Onions Thanks to their bioactive sulfur-containing compounds, the culinary staple can help lower cholesterol, ward off hardening of the arteries, and help maintain healthy blood pressure levels. According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, onions may lower cholesterol by decreasing your body’s synthesis of the compound as well as increasing conversion of cholesterol to bile acids. Onions are easy to throw into just about anything, and I use onions in just about every meal. Just make sure to cook them first. The same study found that heat-treated onions were more effective at lowering cholesterol compared to raw onions.

Ginger has also been found to help reduce total cholesterol and LDL. Researchers attribute ginger’s health benefits to gingerols, compounds that are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial.

Legumes (Beans: black, kidney, navy, pinto, garbanzo, lentil, etc.) All are rich in soluble fiber, which binds to cholesterol in the blood and moves it out of the body. Recent studies show eating 4.5 ounces (1/2 cup) of cooked beans a day can reduce LDL levels by 5 percent. Try black bean burritos, or dip some veggies in hummus, which is made with chickpeas, for an afternoon snack.

Try this Caramelized Onion and White Bean Flatbread 

Dark Chocolate increases HDL by up to 24% (Give up the milk chocolate, as that doesn’t help cholesterol at all.)  Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants that help lower LDL levels. Just make sure to eat in moderation, as chocolate is also high in saturated fat and sugar. You can also use dark, unsweetened cocoa powder in your cooking to get similar heart-healthy effects. (Mix with vanilla yogurt with some sweetener for a chocolate treat!) Like nuts, chocolate is a high calorie snack. An ounce will cost about 150 calories. Plan ahead!

Photos via Pixabay by TheChocolateWedsite

Spinach: This leafy green contains a large amount of lutein, a pigment found in vegetables that have been shown to protect the arteries from cholesterol accumulation. It’s recommended that you try to get at least half a cup of lutein-containing foods every day. It also is high in alpha-lipoic acid, which may reduce triglycerides 25-60%. An easy way to get there: Add half a cup (or more, I tend to use 3 cups) of spinach to your smoothie. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes and peas have a similar effects

Olive Oil: is a plant-based fat, so it’s a better choice when you’re trying to lower your “bad” cholesterol than fats that come from animals. It’s great mixed with red wine vinegar, a minced garlic clove, and a little ground pepper for a salad dressing. I like to roast my vegetables: Drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil over vegetables in a snug baking dish, scatter some herbs (especially garlic), and put in a 400F degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Photos via Pixabay by CongerDesign

Avocado is not just guacamole. They have oleic acid, which helps lower the bad cholesterol in your bloodstream. Try putting a few slices on your turkey sandwich, or add them to a salad. Some small studies have suggested that regular consumption can reduce LDL 10-22%, reduce triglycerides 10-20%, and increase HDL 5-11%. Avocado is high in calories, so plan ahead in your budget.

Fresh garlic Its nutritional value and flavor have made it a kitchen staple. Garlic has been found to lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots, reduce blood pressure, and protect against infections.

Soy Products Edamame, soy milk, and tofu are high in protein and is very low in saturated fat. Eating just 25 grams a day can reduce your cholesterol by 5 to 6 percent. Snack on edamame, top off your bowl of cereal with soy milk, or use tofu instead of meat in your stir-fries.  Beyond replacing saturated fat-filled meats, research suggests that compounds called isoflavones may also work to reduce LDL cholesterol.

Kimchi is Korean fermented cabbage, but many other fermented foods can also help lower bad cholesterol levels. There is a strain of lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus) that gives fermented foods their characteristic sour taste. A study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that the specific strain in kimchi was able to lower cholesterol levels by preventing cholesterol from being picked up by your bloodstream.

Flax and Chia Seeds One of the hallmarks of a balanced diet is to have a good ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s. A 1:4 ratio is ideal, but the modern American diet is more like 1:20. That leads to inflammation, which can trigger weight gain. One of the easiest ways to upgrade your diet is by sprinkling some ground chia seeds or flaxseed into your overnight oats, on top of baked goods, or mixed into your smoothies. A recent study in The Journal of Nutrition found that when patients who were susceptible to cardiovascular disease ate just 30 grams (about four tablespoons) of ground flaxseed daily, they could reduce circulating LDL cholesterol levels by 15 percent in as early as one month. You must grind flax seed to receive any benefit. The human body cannot breakdown and digest whole flax seed.

The end result?

In the previous episode, I made the assumption that your blood lipid levels were just barely into the “high” category. They are at the level where your primary care provider may consider treating with medications.

If you made all of these changes, you will see some reduction in your numbers. How much is very dependent upon many things (age, gender, genetics, and how many of these are new changes for your eating habits.)

And remember, you need to eat like this on a regular basis. What does that mean? There is no firm answer, but I’d suggest this:

  • Whole grains (oatmeal, barley) every day
  • Fruit (2 servings) every day
  • Vegetable (at least 5 servings) every day. And remember: color is important. The brighter the color, the greater the health benefit. Try to “eat the rainbow” (to steal from Skittles) and have many different vegetables.
  • Spinach daily
  • Legumes at least 4 times a week (daily is better)
  • Fatty fish twice a week. Lean meats, fish or vegetarian the remaining days.
  • Nuts, dark chocolate, and red wine at least 3 times a week. (Measure carefully and log it!)
  • Olive as your only oil.
  • Tea (at least 6 cups a day)

If you make those changes and stick with it for at least 6 weeks, you will have some positive results.

My working assumption was:

  • Total Cholesterol 240
  • LDL 160
  • HDL 40
  • Triglycerides 150

If you made all the suggested improvements, and if you only were able to achieve half of the lowest suggested improvements, your new values would be:

  • Total cholesterol 240 – 36 = 206
  • LDL 160 – 51 = 109
  • HDL 40 + 7 = 47
  • Triglycerides 150 – 70 = 80

Those new numbers are not yet in the ideal range (except triglycerides) but they are at the point where your physician would not recommend medications.

Look at that! You made simple changes to what you eat, you avoided a disease that is dangerous, all without medications!

If you want me to send you a menu (with recipes, instructions, nutritional data and a shopping list) that will help you get started on your low cholesterol lifestyle, click here! The menu will have three breakfasts, three lunches, three main dishes, seven side dishes and three snacks. That is enough for a full week of eating!



Music composed and performed by Jason Shaw, courtesy of

Voiceover courtesy of Matt Young. Matt is a professional voiceover artist. If you have any need of voice-over work, for your podcast, radio spot, or whatever, you can reach Matt by a variety of methods. He is on LinkedIn. On Twitter. And Google+. Follow his Facebook page to learn how to better use social media. Matt was also my guest on MYST 54. Give his story a listen!

All images are Creative Common Zero.

MYST 167: Grazing and Grazing at the Fridge

Mindless grazing is a bad habit and it seems to pop up frequently in the evening. How can we stop that habit?

First, we need to identify why you are eating. Are you hungry? Or is it a bad habit? And if it is a habit, what can you do to make it easier to break–or rather, how can you change your actions so that your habit leads to a better choice?

Photos via Pixabay by JuanitaL57  (Man eating) Momentmal (Fruit) and Jacquiosa (Vegetables)


Music composed and performed by Jason Shaw, courtesy of

Voiceover courtesy of Matt Young. Matt is a professional voiceover artist. If you have any need of voice-over work, for your podcast, radio spot, or whatever, you can reach Matt by a variety of methods. He is on LinkedIn. On Twitter. And Google+. Follow his Facebook page to learn how to better use social media. Matt was also my guest on MYST 54. Give his story a listen!

All images are Creative Common Zero.