foods in the Mediterranean diet foods in the Mediterranean diet Foods commonly eaten in a Mediterranean diet can be helpful in lowering "bad" cholesterol. (Photo: Mircea BEZERGHEANU/Shutterstock)

5 Mediterranean foods that lower cholesterol

Eating some of these foods each day may provide long-term benefits for your heart.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains as well as healthy fats and fish, and most experts promote it as a healthy way to eat. It is associated with reducing the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It’s also shown to lower LDL cholesterol, the cholesterol that’s become known as the "bad" kind. Scientific studies have shown this plant-heavy diet to lower LDL cholesterol levels by up to 35 percent in patients with mild to moderate elevated “bad” cholesterol.

Considering these benefits, adding foods common to the Mediterranean diet to your daily diet may make a difference in your health. Here are five foods to get you started.

olive oilChoose extra virgin olive oil over regular olive oil for extra benefits. (Photo: DUSAN ZIDAR/Shutterstock)

1. Olive oil

Monounsaturated olive oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil, is effective at lowering cholesterol if you use it in place of saturated fats like butter or lard. To get the health benefits of olive oil , add two tablespoons to your diet each day. Not only has it been shown effective in lowering LDL cholesterol, it leaves your HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind) where it is.

This isn’t a food that you should eat in unlimited quantities, though. It’s high in calories – 119 calories per tablespoon – and that can add up quickly when you use it to saute vegetables, dress a salad and dip your bread.

Grilled troutFish rich in Omega 3 fatty acids helps to lower cholesterol. (Photo: Viktor1/Shutterstock) 

2. Trout

Fatty fish, or fish that is high in Omega 3 fatty acids help to lower LDL cholesterol. Trout is plentiful in the waters of the Mediterranean, and it’s one of the fish high in Omega 3s. It contains about 1,000 mg of the heart healthy fats per 3 oz. serving .

The American Heart Association recommends eating two 3.5 oz. servings of baked or grilled fatty fish a week. To prepare it in the Mediterranean tradition, cook it whole, like in this Baked Trout with Wine and Vegetables recipe.

Red tomatoesThe lycopene in these bright red tomatoes is believed to be good for healthy cholesterol maintenance. (Photo: Olga Miltsova/Shutterstock) 

3. Tomatoes

Lycopene, an antioxidant that’s in tomatoes, is already known as a cancer fighter. A 2011 study found that lycopene is also effective in reducing LDL cholesterol. It takes about 25 mg of lycopene a day to reduce the bad stuff by 10 percent.

To make the most of cholesterol-fighting power of tomatoes, you might want to eat them cooked. Research suggests that heating tomatoes increases the amount of lycopene a body can absorb. Cooked tomato sauce or oven-roasted grape tomatoes can be more beneficial than raw tomatoes.

Chickpeas, garbanzo beansJust one-third of a cup of these legumes can help lower cholesterol. (Photo: homydesign/Shutterstock)

4. Chickpeas

These legumes, also known as garbanzo beans, are widely cultivated in Israel. Chickpeas are a staple in the Mediterranean diet as the main ingredient in popular regional foods like falafel and hummus. They're also a good addition to salads and soups.

A Canadian study found that a third of a cup of chickpeas a day will help lower LDL cholesterol. But you can eat them once or twice a week and substitute one-third cup of beans, lentils or peas on the other days to get the same positive effects.

sunflower seedsStudies show the phytosterols in sunflower seeds lowers cholesterol. (Photo: HandmadePictures/Shutterstock)

5. Sunflower seeds

Both nuts and seeds are common in the Mediterranean diet. Like olive oil, sunflower seeds are high in monounsaturated fats. They’re also good sources of phytosterols, a chemical in plants that studies show lowers cholesterol.

Of the most commonly consumed seeds, sunflower seeds have the highest levels of phytosterols. A handful of seeds are all that’s needed each day. More than that, and you risk taking in too many calories. Throw a handful in salads, add them as a crunchy element in chicken salad, sprinkle them in hot cereal or roast them and pop them in your mouth one at a time as a snack. 

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