You're truly never too young or too old to protect your heart. "The buildup of plaque in your arteries can silently start as early as your late teens and early 20s," explains Jennifer H. Mieres, M.D., professor of cardiology and population health and senior vice president, office of community and public health, at the North Shore-LIJ health system. Lower your odds of developing heart disease by keeping an eye on these key factors and lifestyle habits in your 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond.See More
You can help lower your cholesterol naturally by following a heart-healthy diet. These heart-smart foods and recipes are extra powerful -- they can help lower bad LDL cholesterol.
Diet plays a big role in your cholesterol levels. Unhealthful foods that are loaded with saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and dietary cholesterol can raise cholesterol, but there is a flip side. Heart-healthy foods can actually help improve your cholesterol.
Find out what foods to include in your heart-smart diet.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, Omega-3s have many heart-healthy benefits including lowering high triglyceride levels and reducing blood clots. The best source of Omega-3 fatty acids come from eating fish. Some researchers say alpha-linolenic acid found in soybeans, ground flaxseed, and canola oil are converted into Omega-3s in the body, offering similar heart-healthy benefits.
Good sources of omega-3s:
-- Atlantic salmon
-- Albacore tuna
-- Soy products, such as tofu, edamame (soy beans), and soy milk
-- Ground flaxseed
Get your omega-3s with these recipes:
Monounsaturated fat is another ¿good¿ fat that can help lower cholesterol when eaten instead of saturated or trans fats. Monounsaturated fats also are high in vitamin E, an antioxidant, according to the American Heart Association.
You can reap the benefits of this healthy fat in foods such as:
-- Peanut butter
-- Canola oil
-- Olive oil
These recipes feature monounsaturated fats:
Incorporating fiber into your diet is a great way to lower cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends eating a variety of foods to get the necessary soluble and insoluble fiber needed daily. They recommend about 25¿30 grams a day, which is about twice the amount the average American adult normally consumes.
Good sources of fiber recommended by the Cleveland Clinic:
-- 1/2 cup navy beans = 5.8 grams of fiber
-- 1 cup cooked broccoli = 5.5 g
-- 1 cup cooked oatmeal = 4 g
-- 1 cup blueberries = 4 g
-- 1 cup long-grain brown rice = 3.3 g
-- 1 medium red apple = 3 g
Get your fiber with these recipes:
Plant sterols may help block the absorption of LDL and affect cholesterol metabolism, preventing the buildup of bad cholesterol, which can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), according to a 2005 study published in The American Journal of Cardiology.
Although you consume small amounts of plant sterols in the fruits and vegetables you eat, it¿s not enough to make a difference in cholesterol, which is why many products on the market are now supplemented with sterols/stanols. According to the study, a daily recommendation of 2-2.5 grams of plant sterols a day may lower LDL 10-14 percent.
Plant sterols can be found in these fortified products:
-- Rice Dream Heartwise
-- Promise Activ buttery spreads
-- Minute Maid Heart Wise orange juice
-- Nature Valley Healthy Heart granola bars
You also can buy plant sterols in supplement form over the counter.
Flavonoids are compounds found in plant-based foods high in antioxidants. The Cleveland Clinic says these help decrease the LDL-oxidation process that can lead to arterial plaque. These foods are often referred to as power foods for their disease-fighting antioxidants as well as their anti-inflammatory benefits.
Good sources of flavonoids:
-- Dark chocolate (from the cocoa plant)
-- Black and green tea
Get your flavonoids with these recipes: