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48 Foods That Lower Cholesterol

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What is a cholesterol balancing diet?

48 Foods that lower cholesterol

Dietary changes to lower cholesterol

Foods to avoid with high cholesterol

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 12% of adults age 20 or older have high total cholesterol levels. [1]

Before figuring out why these statistics are disturbing, let’s look into what the standard cholesterol profile includes [2] :

LDL cholesterol. It transports cholesterol from the liver to different parts of the body. It’s also known as “bad cholesterol” as it’s prone to building up in the arteries when its levels in the blood are too high. Indication of high LDL levels in adults age 20 or older is 100mg/dL.

HDL cholesterol. It transports the excess cholesterol from the body cells, tissues, and arteries to the liver, where it can be excreted out of the body. It’s also known as “good” cholesterol as it may lower the health risks associated with high LDL. Indication of recommended HDL levels in adults age 20 or older is 50mg/dL.

Total cholesterol. This is the combination of LDL, HDL cholesterol, and other lipids like triglycerides (type of fat particles in the blood). Indication of high total cholesterol levels in adults age 20 or older is 200mg/dL.

cholesterol profile

Total cholesterol levels may peak due to various lifestyle factors like sedentary life and western diet. A concerning fact is that often high total cholesterol is driven by high levels of LDL (bad cholesterol). Excess LDL by itself is a serious risk factor for the development of atherosclerosis (buildup of plaque on the walls of the arteries), cardiovascular disease (also known as heart disease), high blood pressure, and stroke. [3]

Popular and effective approaches to balance cholesterol profile and reduce LDL cholesterol and total blood lipids include [4] :

  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Exercise
  • Lose weight
  • Take medication prescribed by your healthcare provider
  • Adopt diet changes

In fact, diet plays a key role in lowering cholesterol and maintaining its healthy levels!

In this article, we will look at cholesterol lowering diet. You will find a list of 48 different foods that lower cholesterol, as well as foods to avoid when trying to balance cholesterol profile. The article also gives you tips and suggestions about dietary changes and swaps that can help you in your journey to healthy cholesterol levels.

cholesterol diet

What is a cholesterol balancing diet?

Diet for improving cholesterol profile includes consumption of foods rich in plant sterols, soluble fiber, healthy fats: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (in substitution for saturated and trans fats), and nuts. According to Harvard Health Publishing, individuals eating about 2000 calories per day should aim for consuming specific amounts of the mentioned food groups [5] :

  • Soluble fiber: 18 grams per day from whole foods
  • Nuts: one handful per day (at best, raw nuts)
  • Soy protein: 42.8 grams per day from soy-based foods (More research is still needed to fully support the claim that soy protein improves cholesterol)
  • Plant sterols: amount not defined
  • Unsaturated fats (e.g., extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, omega-3 fatty acids) : amount not defined

According to MedlinePlus, 25-35% of consumed daily calories should be from fats. Considering this recommendation, people who eat 2000 calories in total should aim for about 43-65 grams of total fat per day, focusing on unsaturated fat sources. Only 7% of that amount should come from saturated fats. [6]

Evidence suggests that 1-month long consumption of all the suggested food groups may lead to lower LDL cholesterol by 22-30%. In the long term (over 6-months consumption of all suggested foods) the LDL cholesterol is likely reduced by 15%. Individual consumption of only one food group (plant sterols, soy protein, soluble fiber foods, and nuts) may reduce the LDL cholesterol by 3-9%. [7]

One specific heart healthy diet that can be associated with reduced total cholesterol is plant-based diet (including vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, and flexitarian dietary patterns). [8] This diet may lower the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and promote heart health.

Related: 12 Health Benefits of Eating Plant-Based [ Dietitian Approved ]

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48 Foods that lower cholesterol

The foods below have a positive impact on cholesterol levels and are supported by the American heart Association (AHA). [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

Fruits, vegetables, and legumes

  • All vegetables (aim for 5 servings- each serving is ½ cup of veggies)
  • Oats (specifically oat bran)
  • Barley
  • Okra
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruits
  • Avocado
  • Olives

Find out more: Why Is Dietary Fiber Healthy? [Complete Guide with Food Sources]

Nuts

  • Almonds
  • Macadamias
  • Brazil nuts
  • Cashew nuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Seeds (e.g., chia seed, sesame seed)

Fatty fish

  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Trout

Vegetable oils

  • Olive oil (extra virgin)
  • Sunflower oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Canola oil
  • Other nut and seed oils

Don’t miss out: How To Choose The Best Oil For Cooking? [ Dietitian Approved ]

cooking oils

Soya foods

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Mince
  • Edamame beans
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh

Foods fortified with sterols and stanols

  • Yogurt drinks
  • Fat spreads
  • Milk
  • Bread

Foods fortified with sterols are not suitable for consumption by pregnant or breastfeeding women, children without inherited high cholesterol condition, and people taking Ezerol (Ezetimide). [9]

Don’t miss out: Foods for High Blood Pressure

Dietary changes to lower cholesterol

The American Heart Association and United Kingdom’s National Health Service suggest different dietary changes/swaps to adopt if you aim to balance your cholesterol. [14] [4]

  1. Choose lean cuts of meat instead of fatty pieces. Examples include beef round, chuck, sirloin, or loin; pork tenderloin or loin chop; lamb leg, arm, or loin cuts.(limit to not more than 2x/week)

  2. Trim all visible fat left on the meat cuts.

  3. Choose white chicken and turkey over red meat, duck, and goose.

  4. Use skinless poultry or remove the skin before cooking.

  5. Limit processed and deli meat to a minimum (examples include sausage, salami, and ham)

  6. Choose low-fat dairy products instead of full-fat ones.

  7. Choose whole-grain products instead of foods with refined grains and carbs (e.g., whole grain pasta, bread or rice instead of white bread and rice).

  8. Choose grilling, steaming, poaching, and boiling instead of frying/roasting.

  9. Drain off excess fat when roasting, baking and broiling.

healthy cooking for cholesterol balance

Foods to avoid with high cholesterol

According to MedlinePlus, people who aim to lower their cholesterol should limit their consumption of cholesterol (from foods) to less than 200mg a day. [10] Foods containing cholesterol include:

  • Organ meats
  • Whole milk
  • Whole fat dairy products – I suggest limit as opposed to avoid

That being said, the NHS suggests that consumption of saturated fats has a more significant impact on blood cholesterol than intake dietary cholesterol. [4] Foods rich in saturated fats are: [15]

  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Processed meats and deli meat
  • Butter and ghee
  • Lard, margarine, shortening
  • Hard cheese
  • Cream
  • Foods that contain coconut or palm oil
  • Processed foods
  • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, fats and tropical oils (palm, palm kernel, and coconut oil)
  • Fried foods
  • Convenience foods

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