You’ve probably heard a lot about cholesterol, but what is it, and why is it important, especially if you have diabetes?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is necessary to build cells, create vitamins and synthesize hormones.
Cholesterol isn’t bad; however, having imbalanced cholesterol levels in the blood can become a problem, especially for people with diabetes.
The liver makes about 80% of the body’s cholesterol, with the other 20% coming from your diet.
While you can’t change how much cholesterol your liver makes, you can adjust your eating habits to help promote healthy cholesterol levels.
Find out some of the best cholesterol reducing foods to include in a diabetes diet.
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The dangers of high cholesterol with diabetes
High cholesterol is one of many risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease (heart disease), affecting the heart and blood vessels. Having heart disease increases the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke.
People with diabetes are more likely to suffer from heart disease as well as diabetic dyslipidemia, which is when levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol are high while levels of HDL “good” cholesterol are low.
High levels of LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol levels contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries. When plaque builds up in the arteries, it can lead to a heart attack or stroke, depending on the location. Therefore, it’s ideal to have high levels of HDL cholesterol and lower levels of LDL cholesterol.
Managing cholesterol and blood pressure is an essential part of diabetes management. High cholesterol and high blood pressure are significant risk factors for heart disease and other diabetes complications.
Incorporating cholesterol-lowering foods is one of the lifestyle changes you can make to help improve unhealthy cholesterol levels.
15 cholesterol reducing foods
Here we discuss some of the best cholesterol reducing foods to include in a diabetes diet.
Fiber is found in all plant-based foods and is beneficial for heart health. Oats are rich in soluble fiber, which is especially helpful in lowering LDL cholesterol. Soluble fibers mean they are soluble in water, whereas insoluble fibers are not soluble in water.
One study found that consuming oats lowered total cholesterol by 5% and LDL cholesterol by 10%. Part of the reason oats are one of the powerful cholesterol reducing foods is their beta-glucan content, which is a type of dietary fiber. Beta-glucans can interact with lipids (fats) and biliary salts, which are produced by the liver and help eliminate cholesterol from the body.
Not only are oats a great cholesterol reducing food, but they can also improve blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
2) Black beans
Black beans are a type of legume, which is the plant family that also contains other beans and lentils, peas, and peanuts. They are an excellent source of fiber, which many people don’t consume enough of in a typical Western diet.
The American Heart Association recommends consuming 25-30 grams of fiber per day from foods, not supplements. One half cup of black beans contains almost eight grams of fiber, nearly a third of the daily recommended amount.
Black beans can be purchased dried and prepared at home or purchased in canned form for convenience. Try to choose beans without added salt, or rinse and drain canned black beans that contain salt.
Not only does fiber help promote healthy cholesterol levels, but it also doesn’t raise blood sugar because the body can’t digest it. Choosing high-fiber carbohydrates, such as black beans, is one strategy to help optimize blood sugar control.
Flaxseeds are a tiny but mighty cholesterol reducing food that you can easily incorporate into your diet. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains almost two grams of dietary fiber, most of which is soluble fiber.
Studies have found that consuming products with flaxseed in them can help reduce both total and LDL cholesterol levels.
Flaxseeds are also rich in omega-3 fats, which are fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol and improving insulin secretion. This makes them a win-win for people with diabetes. Flaxseeds should be ground, not whole, for the body to absorb their healthy fats.
One of the most popular and versatile fruits, apples are rich in soluble fiber. Consuming 5-10 grams of soluble fiber per day (as part of the total goal of 25-30 grams of fiber per day) may help to lower LDL cholesterol.
Apples are budget-friendly, making them one of the best cholesterol reducing foods to keep on hand. One study found consuming two apples a day helped lower cholesterol levels and improve other cardiovascular health indicators in test subjects.
Another legume, lentils are packed with heart-healthy fiber. Lentils are also a great source of plant-based protein, which can help boost satiety after meals. Lentils are also rich in potassium, a mineral that helps to relax blood vessels and promote healthy blood pressure levels.
A Canadian study found an association between consuming one serving of legumes ( ¾ cup) per day and a 5% reduction in LDL cholesterol.
These fatty nuts are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and are a great fiber source. According to a small study on male test subjects, including walnuts in a heart-healthy diet is associated with reducing total cholesterol and favorable changes in LDL cholesterol.
Walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fats, which are considered heart-healthy fats compared to the saturated fats found in full-fat animal products. Saturated fats may increase LDL cholesterol, especially if they are consumed regularly in high amounts.
Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats may help promote more ideal cholesterol levels. Because of their rich fat content, freeze shelled walnuts if you won’t consume them within a couple of months after opening.
7) Whole wheat bread
Bread is a staple in most diets for its convenience and versatility. Bread can be a cholesterol reducing food if made from whole grains, which haven’t been stripped of their outer layers during processing.
Whole-grain breads are richer in fiber than refined grains, making them a more heart-healthy choice. To ensure your bread is made from whole grains, check the nutrition facts and ingredients labels. There shouldn’t be any enriched flours, and ideally, each slice should contain at least two grams of fiber.
When it comes to meat and fish, those high in saturated fat may not be the best for elevated cholesterol levels. Salmon is rich in monounsaturated fat, as well as being an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Fatty fish such as salmon is a staple in a Mediterranean-style diet. This diet links with improved health outcomes, especially in comparison to a typical Western diet.
Eating salmon also relates to improved blood pressure levels compared to a diet that doesn’t contain any fish and significantly increases HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
This fiber-rich fruit is an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, as well as being rich in fiber. One half cup of cubed avocado contains five grams of fiber and 10% of the daily recommended amount of blood pressure-lowering potassium.
Avocados are versatile and can be used on sandwiches, salads, Mexican-style recipes, or enjoyed on their own. You can also blend them into smoothies or use them in place of butter in some baked goods.
10) Olive oil
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Consumption of olive oil can increase HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is the “good” type of cholesterol because it has anti-inflammatory properties and can help offset the negative qualities of LDL cholesterol.
Olive oil is versatile cooking oil, but it’s important to note that it doesn’t have the highest smoke point. The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which the oil turns to smoke and stops being effective at cooking. Olive oil’s smoke point can range anywhere from 365-405 degrees Fahrenheit.
So if you’re cooking at temperatures above 400 degrees, you might want to use a higher smoke point oil such as avocado oil.
11) Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts are not only rich in nutrients such as vitamin K, vitamin C, and B-vitamins. But they are also a fantastic source of cholesterol-reducing soluble fiber with two grams of soluble fiber per half-cup.
Brussel sprouts consumption may also reduce the risk of some cancers, especially colon cancer.
While all fruit contains fiber, berries are especially rich in fiber. Raspberries are a fiber powerhouse with eight grams of fiber per one cup.
Consumption of berries can significantly reduce LDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading), fasting blood sugar, body mass index, and hemoglobin A1c, and tumor necrosis factor (a measure of inflammation).
13) Foods with plant sterols and stanols
Food enriched with plant sterols and stanols have shown promise in their ability to lower cholesterol levels. When taken in amounts between 2-2.5 grams per day, products enriched with plant stanol/sterol esters can reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 10% to 14% without any reported side effects.
Plant sterols and stanols are in small amounts in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. However, foods enriched with plant sterols and stanols help people get high enough amounts to lower cholesterol.
Examples of foods enriched with sterols and stanols include certain margarine, orange juice, and supplements. Reading the nutrition facts label can tell you if a food has sterols and stanols in it.
Foods made from soybeans such as tofu, edamame, and foods with soy protein may help lower cholesterol. Soy isoflavones, which are antioxidant compounds, can significantly reduce both total and LDL cholesterol levels.
15) Dark chocolate
You don’t have to give up dessert while trying to lower your cholesterol! Dark chocolate can increase HDL cholesterol, which may reduce the risk of heart disease even if total cholesterol is high.
The polyphenols in dark chocolate are believed to be responsible for raising HDL cholesterol while making LDL cholesterol less likely to cause oxidative damage, which can cause damage to cells, DNA and speed up aging.
Dark chocolate with at least 60% cacao solids is lower in sugar and higher in fiber than other chocolates. Therefore, this makes it a good choice for people with diabetes.
As a tip, the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the lower the sugar content!
Having high cholesterol when you have diabetes puts you at greater risk of heart disease and stroke complications. People with diabetes are more likely to have high levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol, which isn’t ideal for heart health.
Incorporating cholesterol reducing foods into your diet is one of the lifestyle changes you can make to improve your cholesterol numbers. Most foods that can lower cholesterol are rich in fiber, low in saturated fat, high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Including these foods in your diet regularly can not only improve cholesterol but have other benefits on overall health. This is through promoting healthy blood sugar levels, lowering blood pressure, and even reducing the risk of certain cancers.