This year, more than half a million men in the U.S. will have a heart attack.
Now, for some good news: lowering your cholesterol is the single most important thing you can do to prevent heart attacks—and it’s not hard to do.
A diet rich in fiber and other cholesterol-lowering foods may help lower your number as much as statin medication for some people, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ryan Andrews, the Director of Education at Precision Nutrition, pinpoints foods that are good for lowering cholesterol, a natural fat-like substance found in all animal tissue, and how you can incorporate these super foods into your diet.
A simple whole grain, this breakfast food contains soluble fiber, which helps bind up “bad” cholesterol that’s in the gastrointestinal tract. Brown rice and quinoa have similar powers. Andrews recommends steel cut oats to get the most benefits, but a pack of oatmeal is better than nothing.
The fibrous foods may have a smelly reputation— as the old camp song goes, “Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, the more you eat, the more fart”— but they are excellent at lowering cholesterol.
3. Nuts and Seeds
It’s a nutritional paradox. Even though nuts and seeds are high in fat, studies have shown that the more nuts people eat, the healthier they are. Add these foods to your diet by snacking on a handful of almonds or sprinkling sesame seeds into a stir-fry or salad.
4. Olive Oil
This cooking staple makes just about everything taste good, and thanks to its mix of antioxidants, it can also help lower your cholesterol. The Food and Drug Administration recommends using about 2 tablespoons of olive oil a day in place of other fats in your diet to get its heart-healthy benefits.
It’s time to unscramble the truth about eggs. Some people have chided eggs because they are high in cholesterol, but only a small amount of it passes into the blood. Choose a cage-free with omega 3s to get the best health boost.
When it comes to red meat, splurging on high-quality grass-fed cuts is a no brainer. “It has a better nutritional profile than the other stuff,” Andrews says. “You just have to be sure you don’t over eat.”
7. Whole Grain Bread
You don’t have to pass up the breadbasket in order to lower your cholesterol. Andrews recommends sticking to breads made of whole wheat and sprouted grains. If that’s confusing, just try reading the food label. If you can recognize (and pronounce) the ingredients you’re good to go.
8. Green Vegetables
It’s no surprise that veggies are excellent for lowering cholesterol, but leafy, crunchy ones like kale, broccoli, and asparagus are the best.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “fatty fish can be heart healthy because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots. In people who have already had heart attacks, fish oil — or omega-3 fatty acids — reduces the risk of sudden death.”
Yes, you read that right. Nibbling on chocolate can help lower your cholesterol. But don’t reach for a Kit Kat (which is loaded with milk, dairy fat, and sugar). “The closer the bar is to 100 percent coca, the better is it for your heart,” Andrews says.