Photo: guvendemir/istock.

Cholesterol levels matter, regardless of how young you are. A 35-year-old who lives with high cholesterol for two decades could see her risk for heart disease increase by 93 percent. To avoid that fate, cut out trans fats and cigarettes, limit saturated fats, and pick up these heart-happy foods.

1. Avocado

When overweight people had an avocado a day as part of a moderate-fat diet, they lowered bad (LDL) cholesterol by 10 percent and total cholesterol by 8 percent compared with when they ate an average American diet, according to research. "Avocados contain fiber and other nutrients that help block the body’s absorption of cholesterol," says lead study author Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD.

Photo: Diane Labombarbe/istock.

2. Soy
Eating 14 to 50 grams of soy foods (e.g., edamame, tofu) daily for one to four months lowered total cholesterol by 2 percent, LDL by 3 percent, and triglycerides (the fat associated with heart disease) by 4 percent, according to a 2015 meta-analysis. Results were even greater in those who were diabetic or obese. Soy may reduce the body’s ability to produce cholesterol and increase its rate of deterioration, says lead study author Oluwabunmi Tokede.

Photo: Anna Pustynnikova/istock.

3. Oats
We know oats can lower overall cholesterol, but a meta-analysis recently found that they can also reduce two less-talked-about measurements of bad cholesterol: non-HDL cholesterol and apoB. "Mounting evidence indicates that high levels of these can lead to increased risk of heart attack or stroke," says lead study author Vladimir Vuksan, PhD.

Photo: Chamille White/istock

4. Beans
Consuming 130 grams (between a half and one cup) of legumes every day may lower LDL by roughly 5 percent, according to a 2014 meta-analysis. "That correlates to roughly a 5 percent reduction in risk for heart attack and stroke," says study coauthor John L. Sievenpiper, MD, PhD. Most Americans eat only a fifth of a serving of beans a day. Chili, anyone?

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