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Help Lower Your Cholesterol with Eight Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Published in Heart & Vascular, For the Health of It, Healthy Eating Tips Author: Danielle Armbrust,RD LD

For years, you’ve heard about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in plant-based foods and fish. Many studies have tied Mediterranean-style eating and plant-rich diets to lower risks of various diseases.

Now everyone is touting the anti-inflammatory diet. How is that different than a Mediterranean diet? It’s basically the same.

Inflammation is a part of your body’s normal response to infection or injury, but chronic inflammation can damage your body. It can play a role in the buildup of plaque in your arteries that increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with increased risk of cancer, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

Stress, low activity levels and inflammatory foods can increase your risks of chronic disease. Inflammatory foods include:

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
  • Foods and beverages that are high in sugar
  • Red meat
  • Dairy
  • Processed meat, such as hot dogs and sausages
  • Fried foods

Eight Anti-Inflammatory Foods

  1. Beans
    Replacing some of the meat in your diet with beans is a heart healthy swap. Beans are great sources of fiber (½ cup has 7-9 grams), which lowers cholesterol and inflammation. You can choose from a variety such as kidney, pinto, white, black, lima or fava beans. Look for ways to substitute beans for red meat. When you use canned beans, choose “no salt added” or rinse the beans thoroughly to reduce sodium.
  2. Tomatoes
    Tomatoes are high in vitamin C, potassium and lycopene, an antioxidant with impressive anti-inflammatory properties. Cooking tomatoes in olive oil can maximize the amount of lycopene you absorb.

    Research suggests that the lycopene in tomato sauce and canned tomatoes acts as an antioxidant to reduce low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol, known as bad cholesterol, and inflammation. Tomato paste, sauce, juice and other canned products have five times more lycopene per cup than fresh tomatoes. Just be sure to choose a low sodium or no salt added product.
  3. Olive Oil
    Choosing healthier sources of fats and oils is vital for both the prevention and management of high cholesterol and heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, one of the best sources is extra-virgin olive oil, which may provide extra benefit thanks to a unique anti-inflammatory compound in it called oleocanthal. Use small amounts of olive oil in place of saturated fats such as butter and coconut oil.
  4. Tea
    Research suggests the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of black or green tea may combat high cholesterol and LDL levels by blocking key enzymes that create cholesterol in the body and limit the absorption of some cholesterol. Choose green tea over black if you are looking for a lower caffeine content.
  5. Nuts
    Working 1 to 2 ounces of walnuts into your diet each day is another good way to lower high cholesterol. Meta-analyses published in 2009 and 2015 found that both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were significantly reduced in those who ate walnuts daily. These effects are thought to stem from nutrients like heart-healthy unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, phytosterols (a type of antioxidant) and their associated anti-inflammatory effects. Partial to another nut? Other tree nuts like almonds and pistachios, as well as peanuts, offer similar benefits.
  6. Flaxseed
    Look for ways to add a little ground to your food each day. Try sprinkling it in hot or cold cereal, low fat yogurt, baked goods and smoothies. Flaxseed reduces total and LDL cholesterol levels thanks to a fiber called lignans, as well as antioxidants, called polyphenols, and an omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Flaxseed also has anti-inflammatory effects that can significantly improve the ratio of good and bad fats circulating in your body.
  7. Soy
    Soy foods such as edamame and tofu are good sources of fiber, potassium, magnesium and phytosterol antioxidants. Foods containing soy help keep cholesterol levels down and ease inflammation, especially when consumed in place of animal-based proteins. Soy foods also offer additional benefits thanks to isoflavones, compounds that target cholesterol in the bloodstream.
  8. Cold-Water Fish
    Choose cold-water fish that are lower in mercury such as salmon, canned light tuna, catfish, pollock, sardines and anchovies, and try to get two servings each week. Numerous studies show that cold-water fish are a great source for heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that improve heart health including lowering triglycerides. Most importantly though, eating cold-water fish helps fight inflammation which can happen when your cholesterol level is high.

Many fruits as well as leafy greens and other vegetables are also anti-inflammatory. To get the most benefit, eat a variety of anti-inflammatory foods and incorporate foods from all food groups. Focus on your overall eating pattern instead of individual foods or nutrients.