Powerful components in green tea can help lower your cholesterol levels. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Heart attack and stroke.

These are two words we never want to hear—about ourselves, about loved ones or about anyone, quite frankly.

If you’re fighting a family history of high cholesterol, fighting back after a health scare or just trying to avoid the need for medications, you can improve your cholesterol numbers by making careful changes to your diet.

This can reduce the odds of suffering a heart attack or stroke in the future.

And nothing helps with disease prevention more than a healthy lifestyle that emphasizes exercise and balanced, plant-forward eating.

While it may not be realistic to implement each of the Top 10 items daily, focus on consistently including these foods as part of your diet. It will help in the long run.

Eating whole plant-based foods is a great way to build a foundation for a lifetime of good health.

Top 10 tips to get the most from your diet:

1. Omega-3 fats

These essential fats can raise your HDL (good cholesterol) and lower your triglycerides. Aim to include them at least twice weekly by eating foods like fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring or sardines) and nuts and seeds (ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds or walnuts).

2. Soy foods

This includes non-processed soy items like tofu, edamame, miso or tempeh. Soy can lower total cholesterol and improve your cholesterol ratio with heart-protective isoflavone content. Aim for about 25 grams of whole food soy protein each day.

3. Plant sterols

Plant sterols are compounds in plants that mimic cholesterol. They can lower your LDL (bad cholesterol) by keeping your body from absorbing cholesterol in your gut. Plant sterols are naturally found in soybeans, kidney beans, lentils, sesame oil, olive oil, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, cashews, macadamia nuts, almonds, wheat germ and wheat bran.

Sterols are most effective at about 2 grams per day, divided throughout the day. They can also be found in supplement form, but you should talk to your doctor before pursuing this.

4. Soluble fiber

Soluble fiber can lower your bad cholesterol by binding to cholesterol in the intestines, so it’s not absorbed back in. Foods rich in soluble fiber include oats, barley, mushrooms, black beans, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, peas, apples, pears, prunes, psyllium and guar gum (non-hydrolyzed).

The recommended amount of total fiber per day—including soluble and non-soluble—is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.

5. Garlic

Garlic can lower total cholesterol and LDL by blocking absorption of cholesterol in the gut and reducing the amount of cholesterol the body makes naturally. It is most effective with at least 1 fresh clove per day or 1/3 teaspoon dried.

6. Replacing saturated fat with unsaturated

High intake of saturated fats can increase your bad cholesterol. This includes foods like butter, cheese, fatty meats and coconut oil.

Unsaturated fats, however, can help lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. These are found in foods like nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado. It’s recommended you limit your saturated fat to less than 15 grams per day.

7. Cocoa

This hard-to-resist ingredient has flavanols that help lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol.

Be sure to look for dark chocolate or cocoa options that can give you at least 200 to 900 milligrams of flavanols per day for best results. (This is about 1 to 4 teaspoons of cocoa or 1/2 to 1 ounce of dark chocolate, high in flavanols.). You could also look into supplements, but talk to your doctor first.

8. Green tea

Also helpful for weight loss, green tea can lower total cholesterol and LDL due to its beneficial catechins. Shoot for 3 to 5 cups of brewed green tea per day for best results.

9. Red wine

Yes, you read that correctly. Red wine has been shown to raise your good cholesterol when used in moderation.

Keep in mind: Less is more. Healthy intake of alcohol is one 5-ounce glass per day for women and up to two 5-ounce glasses per day for men. Always use caution with alcohol consumption—it can interact adversely with medications or worsen liver disease and triglyceride levels. It may also increase risk of breast cancer.

10. Exercise

Along with a plethora of other health benefits, regular cardio and resistance exercise can raise your levels of good cholesterol and lower your triglycerides.

The recommended amount for Americans is at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five days per week. Always consult your physician before starting an exercise regimen.