There's no magical food to keep your heart healthy, but there are a lot of foods that can help—including these foods that help lower your cholesterol. In addition to cutting back on foods that can raise total cholesterol and getting enough exercise, make sure to eat more of these foods that improve your cholesterol profile by raising "good" HDL and/or lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol. These foods include some old standbys, such as oatmeal and fruit, plus a few surprising foods that can help lower cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Watch: 4 Heart-Healthy Foods to Eat
Pictured recipe: Classic Sangria
Raise your glass for heart health! In moderation, alcohol is known to raise HDL, or "good," cholesterol. Drinking a daily glass of red wine increased "good" HDL cholesterol and also decreased "bad" LDL cholesterol after a few months, found one study. Red wine also contains antioxidants called polyphenols that help keep your blood vessels healthy and strong. Remember that moderation means one drink for women or two for men daily and, in this case, more is not better.
Pictured recipe: Plank-Grilled Miso Salmon
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that can help reduce blood pressure. Eating salmon can improve your "good" HDL cholesterol, but it won't lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps sweep cholesterol off your artery walls, preventing dangerous plaque from forming. The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish like salmon at least twice per week for heart-healthy benefits. Other fish that contain omega-3s, such as mackerel, tuna and sardines, can also help.
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Pictured recipe: Fig & Ricotta Oatmeal
Oatmeal is one of the best cholesterol-fighting foods because it is so high in beta-glucans, the soluble fibers that cause oats to bulk up in liquid when you make oatmeal. Soluble fiber lowers your LDL, or "bad," cholesterol by forming a sticky layer in the small intestine that blocks cholesterol from entering your bloodstream. Make oatmeal and skip the instant packs with lots of added sugar. (In a rush? See our picks for best instant oatmeals.) Add fruit to your oatmeal to naturally sweeten it and boost the soluble fiber content even more.
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Pictured recipe: Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork with Roasted Apples & Fennel
Many fruits contain soluble fiber, which is important for lowering cholesterol, but apples have a leg up on other fruits. Apples (especially the skins) contain pectin, a type of soluble fiber that latches onto the "bad" cholesterol and guides it through your digestive system and out of your body, effectively lowering your LDL-cholesterol levels. Citrus fruits are also high in pectin, but since it's mostly in the pulp, you'll have to eat your fruits to get the benefits, rather than juice them. Luckily, apples are a little easier to pucker up to than lemons. Apples are also high in polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that help reduce inflammation.
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Pictured recipe: White Bean & Veggie Salad
How does that song go? "Beans, beans, they're good for your heart"? Well...those lyrics get it right! Beans are packed with cholesterol-busting soluble fiber, but that's not their only benefit. Beans are high in protein, which makes them a heart-healthy replacement for some animal protein sources, such as meat. For the biggest cholesterol-lowering benefits, add beans to chili, tacos and burritos (either in place of or in addition to meat). They're also great in soups and salads.
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Pictured recipe: Cranberry-Almond Granola Bars
Tree nuts, such as walnuts, pistachios and pecans, have been shown to lower both total cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol. Nuts are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber and several vitamins and minerals that are good for heart health. Nuts also contain plant sterols, which are natural compounds that block the cholesterol you eat from entering your bloodstream. While nuts are awesome to eat, don't go crazy. Portion control is still important—there are 163 calories in just 1 ounce of almonds. Add a small handful to oatmeal, top toast with nut butter or make a DIY trail mix with dried fruit and nuts.
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Pictured recipe: West Coast Avocado Toast
Who doesn't love avocados? They not only taste amazing but also can help lower your cholesterol. Avocados are high in healthy monounsaturated fat, which helps lower "bad" LDL cholesterol. They also contain fiber, antioxidants and phytosterols, such as beta-sitosterol, which have also been shown to lower cholesterol. Don't hog the entire bowl of guacamole, though! One serving is just a quarter of a Hass avocado, which delivers 57 calories. Spread a few slices of avocado on your sandwich instead of mayo, or dip some veggies into a bowl of fresh guacamole.
Pictured recipe: Chocolate Nut Bark
Chocolate fans rejoice! You might have heard that chocolate is good for you, and it's true. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain powerful antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, which help lower cholesterol. Milk chocolate has less cocoa solids, and thus lower flavonoid levels, and white chocolate is even lower in the good stuff. Reach for small portions of dark chocolate, preferably with a high cocoa content. Or try a sprinkle of cocoa powder in your smoothie or on yogurt to reap chocolate's cholesterol-lowering benefits.
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Pictured recipe: Kimchi Shrimp Cup of Noodles
Kimchi, a Korean fermented side dish commonly made from cabbage, radish or cucumber, is quickly gaining a following for its many health benefits. Kimchi is high in fiber and—because it's fermented—is loaded with good bacteria that help keep your gut healthy. Kimchi contains bioactive compounds that lower cholesterol by blocking cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. The good bacteria produced during fermentation also help lower cholesterol. Kimchi and sauerkraut are usually pretty high in sodium, so watch your portions if you're watching your salt intake.
Related: 7 Must-Eat Fermented Foods
Pictured recipe: Garlic Chicken for Two
Garlic packs a serious health punch. Some people love the flavor and others have been using it as a kitchen cure to boost immunity and promote heart health for years. Recent research has backed garlic's health benefits, especially for your heart. Garlic, along with garlic extract, has been shown to lower cholesterol, possibly by preventing cholesterol from being made in the liver. Plus, eating garlic may also help lower blood pressure. Give your heart a boost and add garlic to your sauces, salad dressings and stir-fries.
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