Eating the right foods can make a big difference in lowering your cholesterol levels

The higher your cholesterol, the greater your risk for heart and blood vessel disease. Gradual buildup of plaque in your arteries hardens them and reduces blood flow to your brain or heart, making you more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack.

What makes high cholesterol so dangerous is the fact you usually don’t know you have it until it’s too late. Since it causes no symptoms, it’s vitally important to get screened every five years and to take a high reading seriously. You may not think it’s a big deal now, but if you wait to make the necessary lifestyle changes you may find you waited too long.

Simple dietary changes can go a long way in lowering your cholesterol to a safe level. Here are a few cholesterol-crushing foods.

1. Nuts

Eat a handful of nuts each day and watch your cholesterol numbers go down by as much as five percent. Almonds, peanuts, and walnuts are especially rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats, and both are known to improve heart and blood vessel health. Choose nuts without a lot of added sugars or salt and limit your serving to a handful (one and a half ounces) since nuts are high in calories.

2. Oats, Barley, and Whole Grains

A bowl of oatmeal each morning can do wonders for your cholesterol levels. Oats, barley, and other whole grains contain a great deal of soluble fiber, a fiber that lowers the amount of cholesterol that’s absorbed into your blood and helps flush cholesterol out of your body. Make it your goal to eat between 20 and 35 grams of fiber each day. Approximately 5 to 10 grams should come from soluble fiber. What’s that look like? A cup and a half of cooked oatmeal will give you 6 grams and an orange about 2 grams.

3. Fruits and Vegetables

You could have guessed fresh produce would make the list. It’s their high fiber content that makes fruits and vegetables powerhouses at lowering cholesterol. Carrots, cabbage, and cauliflower are all high in soluble fiber. Fruits like strawberries, grapes, pears, apples, and citrus fruits are high in pectin, a soluble fiber that blasts away LDL cholesterol, the bad stuff that clogs up your arteries.

4. Fatty Fish

Fish like salmon, halibut, sardines, Albacore tuna, and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids. This type of fat is proven to improve the health of your heart in numerous ways. Plan to eat grilled or baked fatty fish at least two times a week to reap its benefits.

5. Beans and Legumes

Whether you choose black, pinto, navy, garbanzo, or lima, you’re getting a heart-healthy dose of soluble fiber. Because they’re rich in fiber and protein, beans and legumes are a dieter’s dream. They help you lose weight because they fill you up, so don’t have to eat as much to feel full. Eat three-fourths of a cup of beans or legumes a day and your LDL cholesterol and risk of heart disease will both go down five percent. Add beans to soups, salads, pastas, or make them into a hummus dip to make sure you get a good daily dose!

6. Olive Oil

Monounsaturated fatty acids help lower cholesterol levels in overweight folks. You can get this type of heart-healthy fat from olive, canola, or corn oil. Use these fats in place of other types of oils to sauté, marinade, or use in salad dressings.