Can you control cholesterol with diet?

I frequently will get patients that tell me they want to try to lower their cholesterol naturally and not have to take a medication. I applaud them and feel that (depending on the patient and the situation) making a few changes in diet and lifestyle can really help to improve cholesterol numbers.
The first thing I recommend is to add soluble fiber to your diet. Adding about 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of foods high in soluble fiber to your diet can help reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol. Examples of soluble fiber include: oats, dried beans (lima, kidney, black, red, chickpeas), flax seeds, apples, citrus fruit, berries, carrots, apricots, prunes, cabbage, sweet potatoes, soybeans, and Brussels sprouts. You could opt for a bowl of steel cut oats in the morning. Top with a little fruit for some extra soluble fiber. Enjoy a large quinoa/chickpea salad filled with cabbage and sweet potatoes for lunch or dinner and snack on carrots during the day and you will really have a fiber packed day!

Another way to naturally lower cholesterol is to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Foods high in saturated fat include whole milk, full fat dairy, butter, and red meat. We generally revolve the entire dinner around a meat selection so I suggest you take a night or two and go “meatless”. You could try a black bean veggie burger, a tofu vegetable stir fry, or a meatless taco made with textured vegetable protein (veggie crumbles). Lentils are another hearty pulse that can act as a filling and delicious base of an entrée salad. In addition to lowering saturated fat, I recommend reducing intake of foods high in trans fats. Trans fats (or “partially hydrogenated” fats as seen on labels) are made when hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil to form a solid. You can find trans fats in various products such as French fries, baked goods (pastries, doughnuts, cookies, crackers), shortening and stick margarine. Trans fats are not considered a healthy fat as they raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. Now that you are aware of the need to lower “bad” fats, I recommend increasing intake of healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats! Polyunsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature and include vegetable oils, fatty fish, and some nuts and seeds. Monounsaturated fats are also liquid at room temperature and are found in: olive oil, canola oil, avocado, peanut butter and nuts and seeds. Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (when eaten in moderation) can help reduce cholesterol levels.

Finally, you should reduce your intake of foods with added sugar. So many processed foods today contain added sugar (spaghetti sauce, barbecue sauce, salad dressing, cereal). A 2014 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that the more added sugars people consumed, the higher their triglyceride levels, total and LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure, and that this association was independent of sugars’ effect on body weight. I encourage you to begin checking the labels of the foods you commonly eat. Check out the ingredients and if the product contains: anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, confectioner’s powdered sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), this is added sugar and I would recommend limiting your intake. Best of luck!

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