Cholesterol is an important substance for your body. Contrary to popular belief, your body actually needs cholesterol to function. However, having too-high levels of total and LDL cholesterol in your blood means a higher risk of heart disease, so it’s best to focus on foods that lower cholesterol if you have unhealthy numbers.
Thankfully, the foods touted as helpful for healthy cholesterol levels are also great for promoting overall health and harmony—and for producing results quickly. Here are the top ones to prioritize in your daily diet.
1. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are rich in fiber, especially soluble fiber, which can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Studies have shown eating legumes daily may help reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol.
Besides their high fiber content, beans and legumes are also starchy and a good source of protein, which can leave you full for hours in between meals and less prone to overeating.
Popular beans and legumes to eat include:
- Black beans
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
- Navy beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Green peas
Oats are whole grains that contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which also helps lower cholesterol. Research has shown consuming beta-glucan from oats might lower total cholesterol by five percent and LDL cholesterol by seven percent.
There are many ways to get oats into your diet. You can enjoy oatmeal or oat-based cereal in the mornings, bake muffins or pancakes with oat flour, add them to smoothies, or have some rolled oats with yogurt and fruit.
Like oats, barley also contains high amounts of beta-glucan soluble fiber. In addition, whole grains overall have been tied to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Just make sure you are consuming your grains whole, when the grain is still intact. That way, you’ll be getting the whole plant with all its beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fibers.
Barley can be used in:
- Soups and stews
- Breakfast porridges
- Side dishes
- Baked goods (as a flour)
Avocados are a powerhouse of healthy fats. They’re a great source of both monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and fiber. Both have been linked to healthier HDL “good” cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol.
Some people love eating avocados on their own. If that’s not your style, you can enjoy them in salads, on sandwiches, on toast, or in a homemade guacamole recipe.
Like avocados, nuts are another great source of MUFAs. Tree nuts like almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts and pecans have been shown to improve blood cholesterol.
Walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are heart-healthy. A recent study found that adding walnuts to the diet of those with a heart attack history reduced the risk of heart complications.
6. Olive Oil
Using vegetables oils like olive oil instead of fats like shortening, butter, or lard can help lower LDL cholesterol. Try using olive oil in sautés and salad dressings or as a butter substitute.
7. Fatty Fish (and Other Omega-3s)
Omega-3 fatty acids can lower triglycerides (a type of fat) in your bloodstream, helping to protect the heart by reducing blood pressure and decreasing the risk of blood clot development. Fatty fish is a great source of omega-3s.
For these reasons, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week in place of other meats. The best omega-3 fatty fish sources include:
If you exclude fish from your diet, plant-based sources of omega-3 include walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds, although the amounts are much smaller. Omega-3 supplements can also help.
Many fruits contain pectin, which is another soluble fiber that helps lower LDL cholesterol.
Citrus fruits like oranges as well as apples, plums, guavas, and pears are all high in pectin. Softer fruits like strawberries, grapes, and cherries also contain pectin, but in smaller amounts.
Soybeans are legumes, but they get their own category since there are so many ways to eat soy, including as tempeh, tofu, or whole as edamame. Analyses show eating 25 grams of soy protein per day may lower LDL cholesterol by around five to six percent.
10. Vegetables Rich in Soluble Fiber
When looking at cholesterol-lowering foods, we can’t forget the power of vegetables! Besides many having great sources of soluble fiber, vegetables are also rich in antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals your body needs to thrive. Some vegetables like carrots, potatoes, eggplant, and okra are also high in pectin, the cholesterol-lowering fiber.
Adding more vegetables to your diet adds bulk and nutrition without too many added calories. Focus on a good variety of leafy greens and colorful vegetable options.
11. Plant Sterols and Stanols
Sterols and stanols are substances naturally found in plants that help prevent your body from absorbing cholesterol. Sterols and stanols have been added to many food products and are available as supplements. You can find them added to chocolates, orange juices, granola bars, and more.
Although it’s usually best to get substances like this directly from the whole food source, supplementation from other food products can also be helpful in reducing LDL cholesterol. Just make sure any sterol- or stanol-fortified food you choose has a decent nutritional profile.
12. Whey Protein
Research has shown supplementing with whey protein—which is the protein found in dairy products—can lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure. If you can tolerate dairy, you might want to try adding a high-quality whey protein powder to smoothies or baked goods.
13. Fiber Supplements
Ideally, you would get all your soluble fiber from high-fiber foods. However, sometimes supplementation can provide additional fiber to fill in the blanks. Psyllium can be a good fiber supplement to your diet if you need some extra help.