These delicious foods and drinks pack a heart-healthy punch.

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It's likely that you've heard of the term "cholesterol" before, and you're not alone if it makes you feel a little confused. From the low-fat diet era to the current day keto-lovers, there seems to be mixed messaging around cholesterol and how it impacts your health. 

For starters, let's define it. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in our blood that our body needs to help make hormones, synthesize vitamin D, digest food and more. Since it's fat-like and waxy in texture, too much cholesterol in our blood can lead to plaque formation and narrowing of our blood vessels, which can lead to heart disease. 

But not all cholesterols is the same—there are two main types: low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) and high-density lipoproteins (HDLs). LDLs are often referred to as "bad" or "lousy" cholesterol, as they are more likely to accumulate in our blood vessels. HDLs are coined the "good" or "helpful" cholesterol because they pick up excess cholesterol in the blood, including LDLs, and bring it to the liver where it can be broken down and excreted. 

Luckily for us, our diet can impact our cholesterol levels for the better. And no, contrary to what we used to think, eating foods that contain cholesterol—think eggs and butter—do not impact our blood cholesterol directly. Turns out it's too much added sugars, refined grains and trans fats that increase our cholesterol. There are foods that lower your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol as well as these foods that can help boost your "good" or HDL cholesterol. Read through the list and try to incorporate more into your daily diet.

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1. Olive Oil 

Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet for good reason. It is full of the anti-inflammatory compound, oleic acid, which can help boost HDL cholesterol levels and lower risk for heart disease. Research also suggests that the compound, elenolide, found in olive oils, especially high-quality olive oils, helps prevent high-blood pressure and lowers risk for heart disease and stroke. Use olive oil for cooking, salad dressings, drizzling over dishes or for dipping bread in. 

2. Salmon 

Along with being delicious, salmon is full of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help boost the HDL cholesterol in your blood, which can lower your risk for heart disease. To reap the cholesterol-improving benefits, try our delicious Honey-Garlic Salmon and Salmon with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce. If fish is not your thing, there are plenty of vegan sources of omega-3s as well like walnuts, chia seeds and canola oil. 

3. Beans & Legumes

One important ingredient in boosting your HDL cholesterol levels is getting enough soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can help block the absorption of LDL cholesterol, leading to a healthier ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol. Beans and legumes are excellent sources of soluble fiber and B vitamins that keep our heart functioning at its best. Not to mention, beans are versatile in shape, size and flavor and are super affordable, making them great for any budget or occasion. They can be used in everything from Parmesan White Beans to Black Bean Tacos

4. Avocado 

They may be famous for how they can upgrade your toast, but avocados have some impressive heart-healthy benefits. Avocados are packed with healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber. This combo of nutrients allows avocados to help clean out LDL cholesterol while boosting HDL cholesterol levels. You can use avocados for more than just guacamole, too. Try them in this savory Avocado Hummus or in sweet and creamy Spinach-Avocado Smoothie

5. Whole Grains 

If you are looking to eat to improve your cholesterol, there is no reason to shy away from carbs like healthy whole grains. In fact, whole grains have been touted as the #1 food for better heart health, and for good reason. Similar to beans and legumes, whole grains are packed with soluble fiber and vitamins that help your body clear excess LDL cholesterol, improving your ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol. Boost your intake by swapping in whole-grain bread or whole-grain pasta instead of white bread or refined grain pasta. Pairing brown rice, quinoa or barley with a stir-fry or salad helps make it more filling and heart-healthy, too.  

6. Nuts & Seeds 

When it comes to heart health, nuts and seeds have it going on. Nuts are packed with healthy unsaturated fats and fiber to help keep your cholesterol levels in check. Seeds like chia seeds are also packed with omega-3 fatty acids for even more HDL-boosting benefits. Top your salad with pumpkin seeds, add walnuts on top of oats or blend almonds into a delicious Pecan-Almond Butter to reap the benefits. 

7. Berries 

Boosting your fiber intake is a great way to improve your cholesterol levels, and berries are some of the most high-fiber fruits around. The combination of antioxidants and fiber in berries like raspberries and blueberries helps keep LDL cholesterol in check while increasing the ratio of HDL cholesterol. Plus, berries are a delicious way to up your fruit intake. Stir them into a yogurt parfait or smoothie, or top a salad with them for a sweet flavor boost. 

8. Wine 

We are rounding out our list with arguably the most fun heart-healthy food: wine! Wine, especially red wine, contains powerful antioxidants, namely resveratrol and proanthocyanidins. These compounds have been found to boost HDL cholesterol levels while lowering LDL cholesterol levels, reducing your risk for heart disease. Research suggests that moderate red wine consumption, which is one glass a day for women and two glasses a day for men, can be protective. We'll cheers to that!

Bottom Line 

There are several factors that play a role in heart health and cholesterol levels, including physical activity, family history and more. A healthy, balanced eating pattern also plays an important role. These heart healthy foods make it easy to boost your "good" HDL cholesterol levels while keeping your "bad" LDL cholesterol levels in check. For more, check out our Cholesterol Diet Center.