Diet can play an important role in lowering your cholesterol and protect your heart. A few simple tweaks to your diet, along with exercise and other heart-healthy habits — may be helpful in lowering your cholesterol.

The following foods should be included in your daily diet if you suffer from high cholesterol or simply to prevent it.

1. Oatmeal, oat bran and high-fiber foods

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Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad,” cholesterol. Soluble fiber is also found in kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes. 5 to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber a day decreases your total and LDL cholesterol.

Eating 1 1/2 cups of cooked oatmeal provides 6 grams of fiber. By adding bananas, you’ll have about 4 more grams of fiber.

2. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids

Eating fatty fish can be heart healthy because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots.

The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish a week. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are in: Mackerel, Sardines, Albacore tuna, Salmon and Halibut. Some omega-3 fatty acids is found in ground flaxseed or canola oil.

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3. Walnuts, almonds and other nuts

Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, walnuts also help keep blood vessels healthy. Eating about a handful (40 grams) a day of most nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts, may reduce your risk of heart disease.

Just make sure the nuts you eat aren’t salted or coated with sugar. All nuts are high in calories, so a handful will do.

4. Plant sterols or stanols: in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

They are found in relatively high amounts in pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ.

5.Olive oil

It contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol but leave your “good” (HDL) cholesterol untouched.

Try 2 tablespoons of olive oil a day in place of other fats in your diet to get its heart-healthy benefits. Olive oil is high in calories, so don’t eat more than the recommended amount.

Choose extra-virgin olive oil, since it contains more heart-healthy antioxidants.

The top dietary recommendations for lowering cholesterol are to eliminate or at least drastically limit the foods you eat that the following:

• Saturated fats (in animal-based foods, like meats, butter, whole-milk dairy products)

• Trans fats (packaged baked goods, potato chips, snack foods, fried foods, and fast foods)

• Dietary cholesterol (egg yolks, shellfish, and liver and other organ meats),

• Refined carbohydrates. Ultimately, diets high in omega-3s have shown great reductions in heart disease and fewer cases of sudden death.

Omega-3s seem to reduce inflammation, reduce high blood pressure, decrease triglycerides, help to make blood thinner and less sticky so it is less likely to clot, plus raise HDL cholesterol.

For any of these foods to provide their benefit, it is best to make additional heart-healthy lifestyle changes to lower your cholesterol: from exercising, to quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.

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