Carrying high levels of LDL cholesterol (in your blood) increases your chance of heart attack and stroke, so you want to do as much as you can to keep your cholesterol levels healthy. If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, your doctor might prescribe statins, a medicine that’s used to lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol, in addition to suggesting changes to your diet and your exercise routine. Dietary changes could include adding foods that are particularly good for lowering cholesterol.

There are two kinds of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), called “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), called “good” cholesterol. You want low levels of LDL, and higher levels of HDL. You could be at risk for high LDL cholesterol if you’re overweight or don’t get enough exercise. You also could inherit a tendency for high cholesterol.

The Right Cholesterol Levels
The recommended cholesterol levels are:
  • Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL
  • LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol: 50 mg/dL or higher
  • Your liver makes cholesterol. You can also get it from certain foods that contain it, but not as much as from foods that contain saturated and trans fats. Those fats cause your liver to produce extra cholesterol. But there are foods — and supplements derived from foods — that can lower your cholesterol, too. Talk to your doctor about any supplement you’re considering, especially if you’re pregnant.

    1. Niacin

    Niacin is a B vitamin. Doctors sometimes suggest it for patients with high cholesterol or heart concerns. It benefits you by increasing the level of good cholesterol and reducing triglycerides, another fat that can clog arteries. You can consume niacin in foods, especially liver and chicken, or as a supplement. The recommended daily intake of niacin is 14 mg for women and 16 mg for men, so don’t take supplements unless your doctor recommends it. Doing so can cause side effects like skin itching and flushing, nausea, and more.

    2. Soluble Fiber

    There are two kinds of fiber: soluble, which dissolves into a gel in liquid, and insoluble. Soluble fiber lowers cholesterol absorption in your bloodstream.

    According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended amounts of fiber are:

    • Men under 50: 38 grams        
    • Men over 50: 30 grams
    • Women under 50: 25 grams   
    • Women over 50: 21 grams

    The good news if you’re struggling with cholesterol is that soluble fiber is probably in foods you already enjoy.

    Cholesterol Reducers

    3. Psyllium Supplements

    Psyllium is fiber made from the husks of seeds of the Plantago ovata plant. You can take it in a pill or mix it into drinks or food. Taking psyllium regularly has been shown to significantly reduce cholesterol levels. It also relieves constipation and can lower blood sugar for people with diabetes.

    Learn More: The Health Benefits of Psyllium »

    4. Phytosterols

    Phytosterols are waxes derived from plants. They prevent your intestines from absorbing cholesterol. They are naturally present in whole grains, nuts, and fruits and vegetables. Food manufacturers have begun adding phytosterols to prepared foods, such as margarine and yogurt. That’s right: You can eat a food containing cholesterol, and counteract the effect of that cholesterol, at least a little, at the same time!

    5. Soy Protein

    Soy beans and foods made with them can lower LDL cholesterol a little. Tofu, soy milk, and steamed soy beans are a good source of lean protein, which means eating them instead of a fatty food like beef can reduce the overall cholesterol in your diet.

    Find Out: Can Coffee Reduce Your Cholesterol? »

    6. Garlic

    The cholesterol-lowering effect of garlic is unclear. It could help prevent heart disease, but a 2009 meta-analysis of medical studies concluded that it does not reduce cholesterol specifically. Garlic is thought to have numerous other health benefits, though, including lowering blood pressure. Enjoy it in your food, or take it in a supplement.

    7. Red Yeast Rice

    Red yeast rice is white rice that has been fermented with yeast. It is eaten and used as a medicine in China. Some red yeast rice supplements have been shown to lower cholesterol, because they contain monacolin K, which has the same chemical makeup as lovastatin, a cholesterol-lowering medicine. However, you will not find monacolin K in the red yeast rice sold in America because the FDA ruled in 1998 that monacolin K was a medicine and could not be sold as a supplement. You can still find red yeast rice supplements, but they don’t contain monacolin K. Red rice yeast may also cause kidney, liver, and muscle damage.

    8. Ginger

    One recent study showed that ginger can lower your total cholesterol and triglycerides levels, while a study conducted in 2008 showed that it can reduce your LDL cholesterol levels and boost your HDL cholesterol. Ginger can be taken as a supplement or powder, or simply added raw to food.

    Learn More: The Glory of Ginger »

    9. Flaxseed

    Flax is a blue flower grown in temperate climates. Both its seeds and the oil drawn from it are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have a number of health benefits, including raising your HDL cholesterol levels. To get the biggest health boost from flaxseed, use its oil or eat it ground, not whole. Our bodies can’t break down the shiny outer shell of the seed.