1. Roasted almonds—with the skinsiStock/Thinkstock
Just a fistful of almonds packs a whopping 9 grams of monounsaturated fat, helping slash bad cholesterol, while boosting the good kind. Opting for almonds instead of a doughnut, chips, or pretzels for two snacks a day could cut your "bad" cholesterol by nearly 10 percent. Natural vitamin E in the almond's "meat" plus flavonoids in this nut's papery skin also help halt the development of artery-clogging plaque.
In a study from Mexico's Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, women and men who ate one avocado per day for a week had a reduction in total cholesterol of 17 percent. The amazing details: While their levels of unhealthy LDL and triglycerides fell, good HDL levels actually rose—thanks, perhaps to the avocado's high levels of "good" monounsaturated fat. This fatty fruit is also full of cholesterol-cutting beta-sitosterol.
3. Tomatoes—fresh, sun-dried, and in sauce
Eating seven or more servings per week cut risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent in a recent study of more than 35,000 women conducted by doctors at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. The heart-smart factor? It could be the antioxidant lycopene or the tomato's stellar levels of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Cooking tomatoes for 30 minutes or longer raises levels of available lycopene. And 1/4 cup of sun-dried tomatoes has more blood pressure–lowering potassium than a medium banana!
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4. Canned salmon
Among omega-3–rich fatty fish, salmon is king: One serving contains about 1.8 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), important omega-3s that help cut your risk of deadly out-of-rhythm heartbeats; reduce bad cholesterol; cool inflammation; and may even discourage atherosclerosis and the formation of blood clots.
5. Good old-fashioned oatmeal
Betaglucan, the soluble fiber found in oats, acts like a sponge, trapping cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestines and eliminating them. The result is lower "bad" LDL because there's less cholesterol to be absorbed into the bloodstream. A big bowl of oatmeal per day (about 1-1/2 cups) could cut cholesterol an extra 2 to 3 percent, suggests a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.