Recently, new advice has come out in the United States in regards to the prevention of cardiovascular disease and strokes. The analysis of this advice offered by the New England Journal of Medicine claims that consequentially half of Americans over the age of forty should be taking statin pills, more than double the percentage of people taking them currently. In addition, the guidelines encourage the pills for pretty much all older men — approximately eighty seven percent of males between the ages of sixty and seventy five.

However, some concerns have been raised about statin pills. They do come with side effects, such as increased risk of developing diabetes and muscle pains. The idea of prescribing pills to half of a nation’s population is also a worrisome statement on health. In addition, many wonder whether drugs are even required in less-extreme cases and for younger people to lower levels of bad cholesterol. As the Harvard Health Publications said at the beginning of their article on how to lower cholesterol, “if your diet gave you high cholesterol, it can lower it too.”

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Fortunately, a clean, plant-based diet has been proven to help lower levels of bad cholesterol. Taking medications is not the only option in low-risk situations, and cutting back on processed foods and red meat is a good first step in the right direction. Read the basic ideas of clean eating here, and remember that cooking balanced meals at home is a good way to avoid the unhealthy ingredients that are hidden in pre-made and restaurant meals.

Research has found that simply avoiding bad fats and other unsafe foods is not necessarily enough to lower cholesterol levels. In order to use diet to improve health, certain types of foods need to be added as well. A study conducted by the University of Stanford School of Medicine showed that those who ate plant-based diets, rather than simply low-fat ones, lowered their cholesterol levels more effectively. A Canadian study had similar findings, claiming that proper diet — not simply cutting our fat and cholesterol — was the best way to prevent high levels of bad cholesterol. The recommended diet following this story was, unsurprisingly, a vegetarian one.

So, what are some foods that heart-conscious eaters should be adding to their diet? A good thing to keep in mind when eating for cardiovascular health is dietary fiber, which has many health benefits, including decreasing risk of heart disease and lowering levels of cholesterol. As a result, choosing whole grains and eating lots of fruits and vegetables are essential to using diet to lower bad cholesterol levels. In general, a well rounded, varied, plant-based diet is a safe way to go.

Here are some delicious plant foods that may be able to help you lower cholesterol:

1. Eggplant

Eggplant is a lovely, low-calorie, high soluble fiber vegetable to enjoy when keeping cholesterol in check. It’s also a very versatile food, commonly eaten as baba ghanooj and ratatouille. Looking for new flavors? Try our recipe for bitter melon, potato, and eggplant curry.

2. Oats

Oats are a super healthy food, with many benefits attributed to them, including lowering cholesterol levels. Of course, the classic way of getting some oats in is through a bowl of oatmeal in the morning. This is an easy, quick, and delicious way of eating oats, but it’s really only the beginning. If you’d like to spice up this breakfast food, try our berry antioxidant granola. Looking for something to snack on later in the day? Try these oat squares with dates and coconut.

3. Nuts

Every vegan knows that all sorts of nuts are important for proteins, healthy fats, and other nutrients. Let’s add lowering cholesterol to the list of wins for nuts. As whole grains also help lower bad cholesterol levels, to get a meal containing both of these clean foods, try this bulgar recipe. Nuts are also great snacks raw, roasted, or in trail mixes.

4. Beans

Beans are another lovely, versatile food, containing protein, fiber, and vitamins. Beans are great in spreadshot dishes, and salads. Some of our favorite recipes include barley risotto with fava beans and this spicy black bean burger.

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5. Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits — grapefruits, lemons, oranges — are not only super good for you, but also make a sweet treat. They are easy to add to all sorts of recipes. Lemon juice can be used as salad dressing, a dash of flavor in water, or as a booster in desserts. Grapefruits and oranges are great snacks on their own, but oranges especially can be added to all sorts of meals, such as this kale salad with figs.

As is the case with any dietary advice, this is meant only as a guide to help you on your cholesterol reduction journey; seek the help of a doctor if you want to lower your cholesterol — and ask if he or she has nutritional guidance — versus just a prescription slip.

Image source: See-Ming Lee / Flickr

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