Nearly 2 in 5 adults in the United States suffer from high cholesterol. Those with high cholesterol can be at risk of heart disease and stroke — two leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Simple dietary changes can lower cholesterol and improve heart health.
Incorporating foods that promote “good” cholesterol and reduce “bad” cholesterol, such as oats and legumes, is an easy way to increase health and decrease risk of heart disease and stroke.
It is important to note, dietary changes can help lower cholesterol but speaking to a medical professional is the best option in improving cholesterol health.
Let’s take a look at six foods proven to help lower cholesterol.
What is ‘bad’ cholesterol?
Cholesterol is carried through blood by proteins called lipoproteins. There are two types of these lipoproteins — one which is considered “bad” and the other “good,” per the CDC. Theres two lipoproteins are:
- LDL (low-density protein): This is considered the “bad” cholesterol, although it makes up the majority of cholesterol in the body. High levels of LDL in the blood can increase risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
- HDL (high-density protein): This is considered the “good” cholesterol. It helps remove other forms of cholesterol from the bloodstream. High levels of HDL in the blood is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
What foods help lower cholesterol?
The soluble fiber in oats lowers LDL cholesterol and can help improve cardiovascular health as well, research shows.
“Oatmeal has soluble fiber, which reduces your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the ‘bad’ cholesterol,” reports the Mayo Clinic. “Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.”
In a 2017 study, researchers asked a group of participants to consume a serving of oats twice daily for a duration of one month. Researchers found that the individuals who ate oats (compared to the control group) experienced an 11.6% reduction in LDL cholesterol levels in just 28 days.
Oats can easily be incorporated into a healthy diet through oat-based cereals, oat-based granolas or traditional oatmeal.
2. Nuts — especially almonds and walnuts
Just a handful of nuts everyday can lower LDL cholesterol and improve heart health, according to Harvard Health.
“Nuts are a good source of unsaturated fats, which can help lower LDL cholesterol levels, especially when they replace saturated fats in the diet,” reports Medical News Today. “Nuts are also rich in fiber, which helps keep the body from absorbing cholesterol and promotes its excretion.”
In a large 2018 review, authors found that incorporating almonds into a diet can reduce LDL cholesterol levels while maintaining HDL cholesterol levels.
A recent study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation reports that consuming about a half-cup of walnuts each day for a two-year duration lowered “bad” cholesterol levels.
Legumes include beans, lentils and peas. These foods are protein and fiber rich, and replacing red meat with legumes can help lower bad cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Research shows that eating just a half-cup of legumes daily can significantly reduce LDL cholesterol compared to diets without legumes.
“Legumes are high in fiber, specifically viscous soluble fiber, which not only slows their absorption in the small intestine, but also binds up certain molecules having to do with cholesterol,” reports Harvard Health. “This makes legumes very low in glycemic index and load, meaning they result in lower blood sugars and less insulin released after eating them. This fiber also lowers cholesterol levels.”
In a clinical study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, over 100 participants suffering from Type 2 diabetes consumed 1 cup of legumes daily for three months — this was linked to significant decreases in cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, waist circumference and body weight.
Avocados are a nutrient-dense, heart-healthy fruit with healthy fats and no cholesterol. Eating just one avocado everyday can significantly lower LDL cholesterol while maintaining HDL cholesterol, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association.
“Research suggests that the fiber from avocados can improve HDL cholesterol levels and the quality of LDL cholesterol,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Adding two servings of avocado per week to a heart-healthy diet can lower your risk of heart disease.”
5. Fatty fish
Regularly eating fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and trout can help reduce triglycerides — a fat found in blood — and increase good cholesterol due to high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, reports the Mayo Clinic.
“Eating fish two or three times a week can lower LDL in two ways: by replacing meat, which has LDL-boosting saturated fats, and by delivering LDL-lowering omega-3 fats, reports Harvard Health. “Omega-3s reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and also protect the heart by helping prevent the onset of abnormal heart rhythms.”
A 25-year study of more than 4,300 American adults found that those who consumed the most non-fried fish experienced the lowest risk of developing metabolic syndrome and the healthiest levels of HDL cholesterol.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice per week — particularly fatty fish — and substituting meat or poultry with fish.
6. Dark chocolate
The high levels of cocoa in dark chocolate can lower levels of LDL cholesterol, research shows.
Consuming dark chocolate daily can lower LDL cholesterol levels in the short term, reports a study from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It can also increase HDL cholesterol. A study in the Journal of Diabetic Medicine found that individuals who incorporated dark chocolate into their diet for two months experienced a significant increase in HDL cholesterol levels.
It is important to note, dark chocolate is healthiest in moderation because some dark chocolate has high amounts of sugar and/or saturated fats. It is also a high calorie food.