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Top 5 foods to lower your cholesterol

High cholesterol is a problem.

But knowing how to lower it can be an even bigger problem. Proper diet obviously plays a role. But what’s “proper”?

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are five foods in particular that can help lower your numbers — maybe enough to help you stay off medications.

Oatmeal, oat bran and high-fiber foods

Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces your low-density lipoprotein, the “bad” cholesterol. Soluble fiber is also found in such foods as kidney beans, apples, pears, barley and prunes.

Eating one and a half cups of cooked oatmeal provides six grams of fiber. If you add fruit, such as bananas, you’ll add about four more grams of fiber.

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. In people who have already had heart attacks, fish oil — or omega-3 fatty acids — reduces the risk of sudden death.

Doctors recommend eating at least two servings of fish a week. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are contained in mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon and halibut.

Walnuts, almonds and other nuts

Walnuts, almonds and other nuts can reduce blood cholesterol. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, walnuts also help keep blood vessels healthy.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, eating about a handful 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.

Olive oil

Olive oil contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower your “bad” cholesterol but leave your “good” cholesterol untouched.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends using about two tablespoons of olive oil a day in place of other fats in your diet to get its heart-healthy benefits. To add olive oil to your diet, you can sauté vegetables in it, add it to a marinade, or mix it with vinegar as a salad dressing. You can also use olive oil as a substitute for butter when basting meat or as a dip for bread. Olive oil is high in calories, so don’t eat more than the recommended amount.

Foods with added plant sterols or stanols

Foods are now available that have been fortified with sterols or stanols — substances found in plants that help block the absorption of cholesterol.

Margarines, orange juice and yogurt drinks with added plant sterols can help reduce “bad” cholesterol by more than 10 percent. The amount of daily plant sterols needed for results is at least two grams — which equals about two eight-ounce servings of plant sterol-fortified orange juice a day.