Lose the cholesterol, not the taste

Has your doctor told you that you need to lower your cholesterol? The first place to look is your plate. If you’re accustomed to eating juicy hamburgers and crunchy fried chicken, the thought of eating healthy might not appeal. But it turns out you don’t have to sacrifice flavor for better eating habits.

The sweet, stinky onion

A recent study has shown that an important compound found in onion, quercetin, helps lower cholesterol in rodents fed a high-fat diet. Onion may have a role in preventing inflammation and hardening of arteries, which may be beneficial to people with high cholesterol.

Try tossing red onions into a hearty salad, adding white onions to a garden burger, or folding yellow onions into an egg-white omelet.

Tip: Pass on the onion rings. They’re not a cholesterol-friendly choice.

The biting, fighting garlic

A 2016 review of studies on garlic determined that garlic has the potential to reduce total cholesterol up to 30 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Try simmering whole cloves of garlic in olive oil until they’re soft, and use them as a spread on foods you find bland. Garlic tastes better than butter, and it’s a whole lot healthier — particularly for lowering cholesterol.

The mighty mushroom

A 2016 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that regular intake of shiitake mushrooms in rodents appears to have cholesterol-lowering affects. This confirms earlier studies with similar results.

Although shiitake mushrooms have been the subject of much of the research, many other varieties available in the supermarket or at your local farmer’s market are also thought to be helpful for lowering cholesterol.

The awesome avocado

A 2016 review of 10 studies on avocados has shown adding avocado into the diet can lower total cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (aka bad cholesterol), and triglycerides. The key seems to be in the healthy types of fats found in this fruit.

Avocado is great by itself with a squeeze of lemon. You can also harness the power of the onion with the avocado by making guacamole.

The powerful pepper

Nothing gets the blood pumping (in a good way) quite like the heat from peppers. In animal studies capsaicin, a compound found in hot peppers, may have a role in decreasing hardening of the arteries, obesity, blood pressure, and stroke risk.

Whether you’re making a soup, a salad, or something else, peppers can liven up meals with a little bit of spice. If you’re timid about spicy foods, try bell peppers to start. From there, you can work your way up the heat scale as you please.

Salsa, pico de gallo, and more

Forget about mayo or ketchup. Get out your chef’s knife and start chopping. Throw together fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, and other heart-healthy ingredients for fresh dips that make snacking healthier.

Be careful with store-bought salsa, which is often high in sodium. You may need to closely monitor your sodium intake if you have heart disease or high blood pressure.

Flavorful fruit

Vegetables aren’t the only foods that are good for your heart. There’s fruit too! Not only are fruits packed with vitamins and flavor, but many are also rich in polyphenols. These are plant-based substances that are believed to have a positive role in heart disease and diabetes. Some of these important fruits are:

  • apples
  • citrus
  • mangos
  • plums
  • pears
  • grapes
  • berries

Add fruit as a complement to your meal, or enjoy it as a light snack. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Have you ever tried mango salsa? This easy-to-make salsa works well as a side dish or swapped in for mayo on a sandwich.

Aww nuts!

Time for some crunch! Harvard Medical School says that a nut-filled diet may lower your cholesterol and your risk for heart disease. A recent study also indicates that eating nuts regularly lowers the risk of death from diabetes, infections, and lung disease.

That’s good, but the flavor and texture of nuts are even more enticing. Go for the unsalted variety to avoid excess sodium. Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are great for snacking and easy to add into salads, cereals, yogurt, and baked goods.

Using common sense

If you’re trying to eat a heart-healthy diet, the foods you don’t eat can be as important as the ones you do. In addition to adding more of these cholesterol-lowering and heart-healthy ingredients to your diet, you should also leave out foods like red meat. (Sorry, but you can’t slap pico de gallo on a 4-pound hamburger and call it healthy.) However, you can enjoy leaner meats like turkey, chicken, and fish.

Keep it fresh

The easiest way to determine if food is good for your heart is to ask yourself if it’s fresh. This means choosing fresh produce over foods that come in jars, bags, and boxes. You may also need to be wary of salt while watching your cholesterol. Many processed foods marketed as healthy are high in sodium, which can be bad for your heart.

More information

Hungry for more heart-healthy ingredient substitutions? You can find them here. Check out Healthline’s High Cholesterol Learning Center to learn more about taking care of yourself and those you love.