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What foods can help lower cholesterol?

Julie Bolick
Cholesterol Management Specialist

Follow the National Heart and Blood Institute's TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Approach) for:

Diet:

  •      Decreasing saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol,
  •      Adding plant stanols and sterols
  •      Increasing soluble fiber

In addition to diet, follow these lifestyle changes:

Physical Activity:  30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.

Weight Management: Lose excess weight to decrease heart disease risk. 

Dr. Ozgen Dogan
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

If you don't have to watch your calories, walnuts are a great source for lowering cholesterol. A serving of walnuts (8 nuts) totals 200 calories and is jam-packed with omega-3 fatty acids. If you're trying to limit calories but would like to make room for walnuts in your diet, you could cut back on another food serving and/or do more exercise. Walnuts are high in alpha-linoleic acid, which reduces triglyceride levels and the formation of plaque in the arteries. They do this by increasing good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels while reducing bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The next time you visit your grocery store, keep an eye out for these cholesterol-lowering foods:

  • Bananas: Bananas contain a healthy serving of soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol by interfering with the absorption of dietary cholesterol.
  • Salmon: Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help to slow plaque buildup in your arteries. They also help raise levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein), the protective, good cholesterol, and lower triglycerides.
  • Sardines: Like salmon, sardines contain a good dose of those artery-protecting omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Olive oil: Olive oil contains antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or bad cholesterol. Pick extra-virgin olive oil for the biggest effect.
  • Garlic: Whole garlic may help to prevent oxidation of LDL, which helps limit cholesterol's damaging effects on our blood vessel walls.
  • Spinach: Lutein, a pigment found in some vegetables including spinach, has been shown to prevent cholesterol accumulation in arteries. Spinach also contains vitamin E, which helps prevent plaque buildup.
  • Grapes: Like bananas, grapes also contain soluble fiber, which helps decrease dietary absorption of cholesterol. An antioxidant compound found in red grapes may also help lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Strawberries: Strawberries are packed with antioxidants that help to reduce LDL cholesterol buildup.
  • Kiwis: Two kiwis (must include the skin) have more fiber than a bowl of bran cereal and more potassium than a banana. Fiber and antioxidants are a winning combination to help cholesterol.
  • Dark chocolate: In some people, antioxidants such as flavanols that are found in dark chocolate may lower LDL, as well as lower blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain and heart.
  • Avocado: Good fats in avocados help to boost good cholesterol, which helps protect arteries from the effects of bad cholesterol. It also contains beta-sitosterol, which can help reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food.
  • Japanese eggplant: Japanese eggplant is packed with cholesterol-lowering fiber and contains several compounds that may work to lower LDL.
  • Soy: Soy may lower LDL a few percentage points if people with unhealthy cholesterol levels (hyperlipidemia) eat more than half their daily intake of protein as soy to substitute for dairy and animal protein, which contains unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol.

This content originally appeared on doctoroz.com.

Dr. Neal D. Barnard, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

The best way to lower your cholesterol with diet is to first eliminate certain types of foods altogether, says nutrition expert Dr. Neal Barnard. To find out what to cut, and the cholesterol lowering foods you should eat instead, watch this video.

If you have high cholesterol, it is best to eat a reduced fat diet. Dietary fat should be limited to 25-30 percent of daily caloric intake. It is especially important to reduce saturated fat from red meat and high fat dairy products (butter, cheese, milk) to less than 10 percent. Also, so called "trans fats" or "partially hydrogenated" oils present in many packaged snack foods, bakery products, margarines and fried foods are particularly likely to lead to problems with high cholesterol. These trans fats not only raise LDL cholesterol they actually lower HDL cholesterol and further increase the risk of heart disease. You need to specifically read food labels for "trans fats" or “partially hydrogenated" oils to avoid them. It is best to avoid using oils for cooking other than cold-pressed virgin olive oil or sesame oil.

Many people think that eggs should be avoided to lower cholesterol. Eggs are an excellent protein source so rather than avoid eggs altogether, limit them to 5-7/week. Use organic eggs from free-range chickens. The cholesterol in the yolk is far more dangerous if it is oxidized which occurs when the yolk is broken. So either poached or hard-boiled eggs are best or use egg whites only.

Also, remember that high triglycerides are associated with obesity and heart disease. Diets high in refined carbohydrates (bakery products, foods rich in sugar or high fructose corn syrup) and sweetened drinks (sodas) will raise triglycerides and should be eaten sparingly if at all.

To lower your blood cholesterol levels, eat more:

  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: When substituted for saturated fat (a type of fat found in large quantities in animal products), monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help reduce your blood cholesterol. These unsaturated fats are found in the greatest amounts in food from plants, such as olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and nuts.
  • Fiber: A diet high in fiber may help reduce your cholesterol levels. Fiber is found in foods such as oatmeal, oat bran, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, chick peas, and fruits and vegetables.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Populations that consume higher amounts of fruits and vegetables have lower rates of heart disease and stroke. Aim for 7-8 servings of fruit and vegetables each day.
  • Fish: Aim for 2 servings per week. Tuna and salmon are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Foods low in saturated fat include fat-free or 1-percent dairy products, lean meats, fish, skinless poultry, whole grain foods, and fruits and vegetables. Look for soft margarines (liquid or tub varieties) that are low in saturated fat and contain little or no trans fat (another type of dietary fat that can raise your cholesterol level). Limit foods high in cholesterol such as liver and other organ meats, egg yolks and full-fat dairy products.

Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, certain fruits (such as oranges and pears) and vegetables (such as brussels sprouts and carrots), and dried peas and beans.

This answer from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. Robert S. Kaufmann.

A recent study found that a diet with a rich "portfolio" of cholesterol-lowering foods reduces cholesterol even better than a diet low in saturated fat. Which cholesterol-smart foods should you "invest" in? Consider these:

  • Plant sterols from sterol-fortified foods, such as margarine and orange juice
  • Soluble-fiber-rich oats
  • Barley
  • Psyllium
  • Beans and other legumes
  • Soy (from tofu, soy milk, and soy "meat")
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Coldwater fish, like salmon

Foods that foster a healthy weight and cholesterol include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats. There are also some foods that often work as natural or home remedies for high cholesterol. These include artichoke, barley, garlic, red yeast rice and oat bran.

Researchers have found that some foods, such as fatty fish, walnuts, oatmeal and oat bran can help control your cholesterol. Foods fortified with plant sterols or stanols (essential components of plant membranes that are naturally present in small quantities in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cereals, legumes, vegetable oils and other plant sources) can also help control your cholesterol. Some studies have shown that a diet combining these foods may work as well as some cholesterol-lowering medicines to reduce your "bad" cholesterol levels.

Making healthy food choices can be an easy way to improve your health—without side effects. It is important to note, however, that monitoring your cholesterol is important because dietary changes do not control cholesterol in everyone and medication may be required.

Scott Pullen
Scott Pullen on behalf of dotFIT
Fitness Specialist

There are several simple dietary changes you can make to positively impact your cholesterol. For one, increase your soluble fiber intake. Foods high in soluble fiber include oatmeal and oat bran, apples, pears, kidney beans and prunes. These foods can help to lower your LDL cholesterol and decrease cholesterol absorption.

Increase your intake of fatty fish and omega-3 fatty acids. Good sources include mackerel, halibut, salmon and sardines. Shoot for at least two servings a week. If these fish do not appeal to you, you can include flaxseed, canola oil or fish oil supplements. These foods can lower blood pressure and reduce risk of blood clots.

Get a serving of nuts a day. Walnuts, pecans, almonds…almost any kind are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). To get the best benefits, keep them raw (no salt or sugar coatings) and watch your portions of these as the calories add up very quickly.

Add olive oil in place of other fats. Olive oil is rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids and is helpful in lowering LDL cholesterol, the bad one.

Substitute butter or regular margarine with specialty spreads. Many of these are now fortified with Omega-3s, mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Lastly, reduce your consumption of saturated fats, trans fats and junk. Add exercise on top of the mix and you are doing all that you can.

Dr. Marcus J. Cox, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Foods that can help to lower cholesterol are low in saturated fat, high in fiber and low in carbohydrates. These include oats, fish and omega-3 fatty acids such as trout and salmon. Walnuts, almonds and other nuts can reduce cholesterol. Olive oil contains a mix of antioxidants that can lower your bad cholesterol and foods with added plant sterols can help block the absorption of cholesterol.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Foods that help keep cholesterol down are those that are low in saturated fat and those that are high in fiber. For example, one might consider decreasing the amount of red meat in his or her diet and replacing it with more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Also, fish oil has a larger effect on triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood which can raise your risk of heart disease if levels are too high). High triglyceride levels can be reduced with regular consumption of fatty fishes.

Dr. Janet  Brill, PhD, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

A recent study showed that strawberries can make a huge impact in the reduction of LDL cholesterol; apples (which contain pectin) are also very beneficial. Watch nutritionist Janet Brill, PhD/RD, discuss the fruits that can help lower cholesterol.

Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Registered Dietician Ashley Koff reveals some foods that can help lower your cholesterol. Watch Ashley's video for important tips and information about healthy nutrition and diet.

Amaris Noguera
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

There are two major different types of cholesterol in our bodies, HDL (or high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and LDL (or low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Elevated LDL-cholesterol is what scientists have found to be more harmful and can lead to increased risk for certain conditions such as heart disease.

Research has shown that when certain foods replace foods high in saturated fat in your diet, you can lower your cholesterol. If you regularly consume foods high in saturated fats such as butter, red meat, whole-fat dairy and cheeses, fried foods, packaged snack foods, as well as baked goods and pastries, you could help lower your cholesterol by replacing these foods with foods rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat:

  • Monounsaturated fat: olives, all-natural peanut butter, avocado, almonds and oils such as olive, canola, sesame and peanut.
  • Polyunsaturated fat: sunflower seeds, fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel, and ground flaxseed.

The American Heart Association's general guidelines for healthy individuals over age 2 is to keep cholesterol intake to  less than 300 milligrams per day. Or, if you have heart disease or an LDL-cholesterol level of 100 mg/dL or greater, limit your cholesterol intake to less than 200 milligrams a day.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.