Finding the right diet to manage your cholesterol can be a simple task – until you do a quick Google search and find pages and pages of recommendations. While there is no shortage of cholesterol lowering diets to choose from, there is a shortage of diets that actually have evidence that they work.
Trying to lower your cholesterol naturally, you can bet on the latest fashion diet cart that may not do anything for you in the long run, or you can just take over the cholesterol cart scientifically based Mediterranean diet.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
Close your eyes and imagine you are dining al fresco in a Mediterranean villa or by the sea on a Greek island. What do you eat? Are you quick to peel a fast food cheeseburger and extra large soda? Or do you dine leisurely on a dish made from olive oil, vegetables, grains and seeds? And do you eat alone or do you eat with other people and enjoy the process of eating a meal? (Related: What Happens To Your Body When You Eat Olive Oil.)
The Mediterranean diet is based on the way most people eat when they live in the Mediterranean. And while it’s referred to as the Mediterranean Diet, it’s actually more of a lifestyle that many people who live in this part of the world embrace. They dine with family and friends, stay active and rarely stuff their faces when they have a free moment during a red light stop in the car. The TV is off and they focus on what they are eating.
Those who stick to the Mediterranean diet avoid added sugars, highly processed and refined foods, and highly processed meat. Instead, they focus on whole foods that are nutritious and loaded with antioxidants.
In particular, people who follow the Mediterranean Diet eat:
- Vegetables (including potatoes)
- Whole grain products like whole wheat pasta, quinoa and farro
- olive oil
- Beans, nuts and legumes,
- unroasted fish
- smaller amounts of dairy, chicken, and lean beef
Overall, it’s a diet that is high in whole foods and plant-based meals. Oh yes, and you can have some wine with your meals too.
CONTINUE READING: Wine can lower your risk for this health condition as you get older, a new study says
The Mediterranean Diet: Cholesterol Lowering Association
In the United States, more than 12% of adults had high cholesterol in 2015-2016. Elevated cholesterol levels are a risk factor for developing heart disease, which, unfortunately, is the leading cause of death for both men and women in this country.
Of course, many people are looking for ways to lower their cholesterol levels to protect their ticker from problems later in life. And the Mediterranean diet can do just that.
The Mediterranean diet has been linked to health benefits since the 1960s. It was over half a century ago when researchers showed that people in the Mediterranean had lower rates of death from coronary artery disease compared to people in other regions of the world. Since then a Growing research has shown that following the Mediterranean diet can result in both lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.
The results of a study in the American Journal of Medicine suggest that a Mediterranean diet appears to be more effective than a low-fat diet at reducing cardiovascular risk factors, including cholesterol levels.
This diet continues to be a favorite in the medical community because of the proven results it offers. (Learn More: Top Five Science-Based Health Benefits Of A Mediterranean Diet.)
Some foods to focus on when trying to lower cholesterol
From a holistic point of view, the Mediterranean diet appears to help keep cholesterol levels healthy. However, there are some specific foods that stand out when it comes to protecting your heart health and following this nutritional regimen.
One of those foods is Extra virgin olive oil. The Mediterranean diet is rich in “healthy” fats, mostly derived from olive oil, and extremely low in saturated and trans fats. Olive oil is the main source of fat consumed on this diet. And along with the healthy fats it provides, it’s also high in antioxidants and salt-free. The combination of these unique facts can play a huge role in the heart health benefits it offers.
Another Mediterranean diet food group that has been linked to lower cholesterol is full grain. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating whole grains lowered LDL cholesterol more than consuming refined grains – with the greatest benefit people see from eating whole grain oats.
Finally, the diet’s emphasis on nuts can also be a key to lowering cholesterol. The Mediterranean diet encourages the consumption of nuts and WalnutsIn particular, it can offer some benefits when it comes to cholesterol levels. Walnuts are a powerhouse when it comes to nutrition, thanks to the healthy fats, fiber, plant proteins, and antioxidants they provide. In a meta-analysis and systemic review of 26 clinical studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that total and LDL cholesterol were significantly reduced when diets fortified with walnuts were consumed compared to control diets.
How to start the Mediterranean diet
As long as you get the green light from your personal health care provider, it is easy to follow the Mediterranean Diet with a few small steps. And since small changes can produce big results, it’s best to pick a few principles at a time to adopt and then build on your new habits.
Some steps you can take to get started include:
- Swap your processed meat for lean or very lean beef like flank steak
- Choose quinoa or farro instead of white rice or other refined grains
- Cook with olive oil instead of refined oils or sources of saturated fat
- Turn off the TV when you have a meal
- Have fresh fruit for dessert instead of options made with added sugars
Adopting the Mediterranean Diet may be the missing link you need to keep your heart health in check. And since eating as if you were vacationing off the coast of the crystal blue sea is not a sacrifice, there is little downside to eating this way in the long run either. Good Appetite! For more ways to protect your heart and control your cholesterol levels, be sure to check out these eating habits to avoid if you don’t want high cholesterol, say dietitians.
Make sure you learn more about healthy eating Sign up for our newsletter!