Research shows eating these 5 cholesterol reducing foods can help you significantly lower your levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol, raise your levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol, and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Tree nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are excellent sources of mono-unsaturated “good” fats, plant sterols, fiber and protein. Both walnuts and almonds are especially good at lowering LDL cholesterol according to results from human studies.[1,2] Aim for one ounce (about a handful) of unsalted nuts each day.
2. Viscous fibers
Viscous fibers are a group of soluble fibers which thicken when mixed with fluids. The cholesterol-lowering effects of viscous fibers such as oat beta glucans are well-established.Foods high in viscous fibers include oatmeal, oat bran, barley, peas, beans, lentils, psyllium, and vegetables such as okra and eggplant. Aim for a total of about 18 grams per day of fiber from these foods.
3. Soy protein
A number of clinical studies support the cholesterol reducing effects of soy protein.[4,5] Soybeans are high-protein legumes that contain relatively large amounts of nutrients like folate, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, iron, and fiber. Soy also contains compounds known as isoflavones which may be partly responsible for its cholesterol-lowering effects.To utilize soy as a cholesterol lowering food, aim for about 40 grams protein per day from foods such as soy milk, tofu, and soy protein powder (four ounces of tofu contains 9.4 grams of soy protein; eight ounces of regular soy milk contains six grams of soy protein). Try to select organically grown soy products to avoid GMO and include soy in its whole food and fermented forms like edamame, tempeh, and fermented tofu.
4. Plant sterols
Plant sterols are components of plants that have a chemical structure similar to cholesterol. However, in humans, plant sterols reduce cholesterol absorption and thus reduce circulating levels of cholesterol. Plant sterols are naturally found in all fruits and vegetables, but in very small amounts. Studies show you can significantly reduce your total and LDL cholesterol by eating plant sterols each day from foods that have been enriched with them or by taking them in supplement form. Sterol-enriched foods include everything from margarines to juices, milk, yogurts, breads, and even chocolate (dark chocolate can improve your cholesterol, too). Aim for 0.8-1.8 grams per day.
5. Olive oil
Virgin olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fat and polyphenol compounds that exert strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil consistently increases HDL levels and in some studies also lowers total and LDL cholesterol.[7,8] Another benefit of virgin olive oil comes from the ability of its polyphenols to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Oxidized LDL is especially harmful as a cause of cardiovascular disease. Adding olive oil to the four cholesterol-lowering foods listed above, particularly when you replace calories from carbohydrates with olive oil, further improves your lipid profile and reduces your cardiovascular risk. Use olive oil in exchange for other oils in cooking and on vegetables and salad dressings.
Decrease LDL by 15-30% by combining the 5 foods
One key to keep in mind about these cholesterol-lowering foods is that the effects are additive when two or more of these foods are consumed together. We know this mainly because of the amazing research of Dr. David Jenkins, Director of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital, in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Jenkins and his research team published numerous studies showing that combinations of cholesterol-lowering foods in one diet (a dietary portfolio) rather than single foods are more helpful for lowering cholesterol. When consumed individually, these foods reduce LDL-cholesterol by 3-9 %. When these foods are consumed together, however, the reduction in LDL-cholesterol is about 15-30%. In one of Dr. Jenkins’ largest clinical trials, published in JAMA in 2011, the “portfolio diet” including plant sterols, soy protein, viscous fibers, and nuts produced results equivalent to taking a statin drug.
Additional benefit: foods decrease cholesterol in small, dense LDL particles
Another advantage of eating cholesterol reducing foods is that they appear to specifically target the most dangerous aspect of cholesterol: the small, dense, LDL particles. You may be aware that there are different sizes of cholesterol particles, including small and large particles of LDL and HDL. The small, dense LDL particles are the most dangerous because they easily penetrate your arteries. The more small, dense LDL particles you have, and the more cholesterol they contain, the more dangerous they are. One study found that compared to a diet very low in saturated fat, a diet high in soluble fiber, plant sterols, almonds, and soy protein significantly decreased the cholesterol content specifically within small, dense LDL particles.
Meal and snack ideas using cholesterol-reducing foods
The following list contains ideas for incorporating and combining the top 5 cholesterol reducing foods into your diet:
- Hot or cold oat bran cereal with soy milk and blueberries (blueberries provide further help for cholesterol)
- Oatmeal with soy milk and walnuts and chopped apple (apples provide further cholesterol improvement)
- Oat bran bread with plant-sterol-enriched margarine
- Bean soups such as black bean soup, lentil soup
- Tofu stir fry with pearled barley instead of rice
- Soups and stews which include barley
- Smoothies with soy protein powder
- Snacks of almonds or mixed nuts and seeds
- Hummus made with garbanzo beans, tahini, and extra virgin olive oil
- Sterol-enriched juice with psyllium powder
Share your experience with other readers and learn more about how to reduce cholesterol naturally
Have you tried boosting your diet with these top 5 cholesterol reducing foods? Did they help lower your cholesterol? What ideas do you have for incorporating cholesterol-lowering foods into your diet? What other natural treatments have you tried? Our readers want to hear from you. Please share in the comments section, below. If you want a comprehensive, step-by step plan to lower your cholesterol naturally, consider our Comprehensive Guide, available here.