How fiber helps lower cholesterol and what to eat

Soluble fiber, found in foods such as oats, fruits and vegetables, can help lower cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver. cholesterol too comes from eating animal products, such as dairy and meat.

The body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to function properly. However, an excess of cholesterol can cause health problems.

There are two types of cholesterol:

  • Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol: People refer to LDL cholesterol as “bad” cholesterol because high levels of LDL cholesterol can build up in the arteries and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: HDL is “good” cholesterol because it carries LDL cholesterol out of the arteries and back to the liver, where the body can eliminate it. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol may help protect against cardiovascular disease.

This article looks at the effects of fiber on LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, which type of fiber is best, and which foods can help improve cholesterol levels.

Certain types of fiber can help lower cholesterol. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber includes certain fruits, vegetables, oats and legumes. Insoluble fiber includes whole grain products, nuts and seeds.

According to an Article from 2019, soluble fiber helps lower blood cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber helps absorb cholesterol, which reduces the amount of cholesterol the liver absorbs and increases the amount of cholesterol the body excretes.

Bacteria in the colon ferment soluble fiber into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). The addition of SCFA in the gut also helps lower cholesterol.

If people are taking statins to lower cholesterol, adding soluble fiber to the diet can also make statins twice as effective.

While insoluble fiber does not have the same effects as soluble fiber in lowering cholesterol, it has many health benefits, including:

  • support healthy digestion
  • binding to toxins to remove them from the body
  • reducing hunger pangs after eating
  • may lower the risk of certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and cardiovascular disease

There are a number of high-fiber foods that a person can try to control their cholesterol levels as part of a balanced diet, including:

Oats

Oats are high in soluble fiber called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan may have beneficial effects on lowering total and LDL cholesterol and reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.

A Study from 2017 of 69 Asian Indians found that eating 70 grams (g) of oats daily, which contained 3 g of soluble fiber, led to a reduction in total and LDL cholesterol.

Foods rich in soluble fiber

Other foods rich in soluble fiber can help to lower blood cholesterol levels, including:

  • Broccoli
  • roots
  • onion
  • artichoke
  • berries
  • bananas
  • apples
  • pears
  • legumes, such as beans and lentils
  • barley

Flax seed

Whole or ground flaxseed and flaxseed lignans can help to lower total and LDL cholesterol, especially in people with high cholesterol and women (especially postmenopausal women).

However, flaxseed oil does not seem to have an effect on lowering cholesterol.

Tomatoes

A 2021 review found strong evidence that tomatoes can help lower LDL cholesterol.

Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene. Research suggests that 25 milligrams (mg) of lycopene may help lower total cholesterol by about 8 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Almonds and other nuts

There is some evidence that almonds can lower LDL cholesterol. Walnuts and hazelnuts may also have mild to moderate cholesterol-lowering effects.

Avocados

Avocados can lead to a moderate to large reduction in LDL cholesterol.

Avocados are high in monounsaturated fatty acids can help to raise HDL cholesterol levels, which may be beneficial for cardiovascular health.

Olive oil

Olive oil is an important part of the Mediterranean diet and may have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels.

This is according to a study in the journal American Heart Association (AHA). CirculationA traditional Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil may have beneficial effects on HDL cholesterol and protect against plaque buildup in the arteries.

Foods containing phytosterols

Foods containing plant sterols or stanols or phytosterols can cause a moderate reduction in LDL cholesterol.

Phytosterols are found in plant foods, including:

  • vegetable oils and margarine
  • seeds
  • nuts
  • cereals
  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • legumes

Certain foods fortified with phytosterols may include:

  • spreads based on fat and margarine
  • dairy products, such as yogurt, milk, and yogurt drinks
  • supplements

Consume minimally 2g phytosterols per day in addition to a healthy diet can help people manage high cholesterol. It is most effective to consume phytosterols twice a day with a main meal.

Soy products

Soy products could have a slight effect on cholesterol levels. Some research suggests that consuming soy protein may help lower total cholesterol and reduce risk factors of high LDL levels.

According to an 2017 reviewfiber supplements are not as beneficial to health as eating a high fiber diet.

Only specific fiber supplements can help improve cholesterol. Those containing gel-forming fibers such as psyllium or beta-glucan may be effective in lowering high cholesterol. Gel-forming fiber may also help control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.

Fiber supplements containing insoluble fiber or non-gelling fiber do not have the same benefits. This includes:

  • inulin
  • wheat dextrin
  • wheat bran

Other steps that can help lower cholesterol include:

  • limit the intake of saturated and trans fats and replace them with unsaturated fats, such as olive oil
  • increasing physical activity, especially aerobic and resistance exercise, which raise HDL cholesterol
  • maintain a healthy weight, lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol
  • limit alcohol, as it can raise triglyceride levels and the risk of heart disease
  • avoid smoking, as it can lower HDL levels and increase plaque buildup in the arteries
  • take medications to lower cholesterol, such as statins, if necessary
  • unfiltered coffee can raise cholesterol levels, so opt for filtered or decaffeinated coffee instead

High levels of LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Soluble fiber can help the body absorb and eliminate “bad” cholesterol and can lower LDL and total cholesterol levels.

Foods high in soluble fiber include oats, barley, legumes and many fruits and vegetables. Eating a high-fiber diet may be more beneficial to your health than fiber supplements, although supplements containing psyllium or beta-glucan may help.

How fiber helps lower cholesterol and what to eat

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