Did you know that a total cholesterol level above 200 mg/dl can put you at risk for cardiovascular disease? In fact, elevated cholesterol is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease and is also associated with increased risk of several cancers.
Medical science has attempted to address this health threat mostly by drug intervention, specifically, by the use of statins. It has been shown that after about six weeks of taking cholesterol-lowering statin medications, most people will see a decrease in their total cholesterol level of around 26%. That sounds great, right? But statin drugs have their issues. Did you know that statins have been linked with liver dysfunction, acute renal failure, cataracts, diabetes, and impaired muscle function? Yikes, that’s a lot of baddies that I think most of us would like to avoid. So, is there is better, healthier way to lower cholesterol without life and health threatening effects?
You bet! The safest and healthiest plan to reduce cholesterol and prevent future heart attacks and strokes starts with eating a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet with lots of raw and cooked vegetables. Here are eight simple ways to help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels and to protect against heart disease:
- Eat one cup of beans every day. Beans are packed with resistant starch, soluble fiber, and phytochemicals, which help to lower cholesterol. And studies have 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. Fantastic!
- Eat at one ounce of raw nuts and seeds daily. Nuts not only help to reduce total and LDL cholesterol, but can also aid in weight control, reduce the glycemic load of your diet, and they help to reduce heart disease risk. Nuts and seeds are fantastic for heart health because they have a variety of heart healthy nutrients, like plant sterols, antioxidants, and minerals. In particular, add some raw walnuts to your diet because of their omega-3 and other heart protective benefits. Just remember to avoid the roasted and salted stuff and go for raw nuts and seeds.
- Eat a large green salad each day. Studies have shown that higher leafy green and cruciferous vegetable intake is linked to lower risk of heart disease.
- Eat steamed green vegetables every day. Research has indicated that phytochemicals from green vegetables can turn on the body’s natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection mechanisms. I find that the easiest way to get all of that green goodness is to buy frozen (organic where possible) green vegetables when I do my grocery shopping. This way, there are no worries about spoilage and it’s a great way to get a variety of healthy green veggies. And they’re a snap to prepare, just steam them and then you’re good to go. One of my favorite things to do is to top them with some homemade hummus and some raw onion. Yum! CLICK HERE to check out how I make my easy-peasy homemade hummus.
- Eat some tomatoes/tomato sauce, berries and/or pomegranate every day. The antioxidants in berries and pomegranates are especially powerful in improving both LDL and HDL cholesterol. And many studies have shown a link between higher blood lycopene, which is the carotenoid in the tomato, and lower risk of heart attack.
- Eat 1 Tbsp. of ground flax or chia seeds. Flaxseeds are powerful because they contain the beneficial omega-3 ALA along with lignans, flavonoids, sterols, and fiber. Studies have shown that daily flaxseed consumption can reduce total cholesterol by 6-11%! Chia seeds are also a rich source of ALA and fiber. Both flaxseeds and chia seeds are great blended into smoothies or mixed into baked goods. I love to use chia seeds to add omega-3 goodness to my vegan chili. And, as a bonus, it thickens the chili as well.
- Stay away from refined carbohydrates and added oils. Processed foods bring the big bad because they are full of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor ingredients that promote weight gain and increase heart disease risk.
- Lessen animal product consumption to less than 5 percent of total calories per week. It’s really best if you have heart disease or significantly high cholesterol to avoid animal products altogether. Studies have shown that higher animal product consumption is linked to increased heart disease risk.
Some good resources to check out are Eat to Live: The Cookbook by Dr. Joel Fuhrman and My Beef With Meat by Rip Esselstyn. Stay plant strong, you can’t go wrong! To your good health!