11 Foods That Lower Cholesterol – Harvard Health Publishing

Foods that are part of a low-cholesterol diet can help lower high levels

Changing the foods you eat can lower your cholesterol and improve the armada of fats floating through your bloodstream. Adding foods that lower LDL, the harmful cholesterol-carrying particle that contributes to arteriosclerosis, is the best way to follow a low-cholesterol diet.

Add these foods to lower LDL cholesterol

Different foods lower cholesterol in different ways. Some provide soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they enter circulation. Some give you polyunsaturated fats, which lower LDL directly. And some contain plant sterols and stanols, which stop the body from absorbing cholesterol.
1. Oats. An easy first step to lowering your cholesterol is a bowl of oatmeal or oat-based cold cereal like Cheerios. It gives you 1 to 2 grams of soluble fiber. For another half gram, add a banana or some strawberries. Current dietary guidelines recommend getting 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day, at least 5 to 10 grams of which should come from soluble fiber. (The average American gets about half that amount.)
2. Barley and other whole grains. Like oats and oat bran, barley and other whole grains may help lower your risk of heart disease, primarily through the soluble fiber they provide.
3. Beans. Beans are particularly rich in soluble fiber. It also takes time for the body to digest them, which helps you feel full longer after a meal. That’s one of the reasons beans are a useful food for people trying to lose weight. With so many choices — from navy beans and kidney beans to lentils, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, and more — and so many ways to prepare them, beans are a very versatile food.
4. Eggplant and okra. These two low-calorie vegetables are good sources of soluble fiber.
5. Nuts. A plethora of studies show that eating almonds, walnuts, peanuts and other nuts is good for the heart. Eating 2 ounces of nuts a day can slightly lower LDL, on the order of 5%. Nuts have additional nutrients that protect the heart in other ways.
6. Vegetable oils. Using liquid vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower, safflower and others instead of butter, lard or shortening in cooking or at the table helps lower LDL.
7. Apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits. These fruits are rich in pectin, a type of soluble fiber that lowers LDL.
8. Foods enriched with sterols and stanols. Sterols and stanols extracted from plants enhance the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol from food. Companies add them to foods ranging from margarine and granola bars to orange juice and chocolate. They are also available as supplements. Getting 2 grams of plant sterols or stanols per day can lower LDL cholesterol by about 10%.
9. Soy. Eating soybeans and foods made from them, such as tofu and soy milk, was once touted as a powerful way to lower cholesterol. Analyzes show that the effect is more modest – consuming 25 grams of soy protein per day (10 ounces of tofu or 2 1/2 cups of soy milk) can lower LDL by 5% to 6%.
10. Fatty fish. Eating fish two or three times a week can lower LDL in two ways: by replacing meat, which contains LDL-raising saturated fats, and by providing LDL-lowering omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and also protect the heart by helping prevent the onset of abnormal heart rhythms.
11. Fiber Supplements. Supplements provide the least attractive way to get soluble fiber. Two teaspoons a day of psyllium, which is found in Metamucil and other bulk-forming laxatives, provides about 4 grams of soluble fiber.

Create a cholesterol-lowering diet

When it comes to investing money, experts recommend making a portfolio of diverse investments rather than putting all your eggs in one basket. The same goes for eating your way to lower cholesterol. Adding different foods to lower cholesterol in different ways should work better than focusing on one or two.
A largely vegetarian “dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods” significantly lowers LDL, triglycerides and blood pressure. The main nutritional components are lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains rather than highly refined grains, and protein, mostly from plants. Add margarine enriched with plant sterols; oats, barley, psyllium, okra and eggplant, all high in soluble fiber; soy protein; and whole almonds.
Of course, switching to a cholesterol-lowering diet takes more effort than taking a daily statin. It means expanding the variety of foods you usually put in your shopping cart and getting used to new textures and flavors. But it’s a “natural” way to lower cholesterol and it avoids the risk of muscle problems and other side effects that some people who take statins experience.
Just as importantly, a diet high in fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts benefits the body in ways beyond lowering cholesterol. It keeps blood pressure under control. It helps arteries remain flexible and responsive. It is good for bones and digestion, for eyesight and mental health.

For more information, read “How to Lower Your Cholesterol Without Drugs.”

image: John Boscherino | Dreamstime.com

11 Foods That Lower Cholesterol – Harvard Health Publishing

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