If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe statins, a medicine that’s used to lower LDL cholesterol. Your doctor may also suggest 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), also called “bad” cholesterol
- high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also called “good” cholesterol
You want to have low levels of LDL and higher levels of HDL. The recommended cholesterol levels are:
- Total cholesterol: less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
- LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL
- HDL cholesterol: 50 mg/dL or higher
You could be at risk for high LDL cholesterol if you’re overweight or don’t get enough exercise. You can also inherit a tendency for high cholesterol.
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. These types of fat 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.
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 milligrams for women and 16 milligrams for men.
Don’t take supplements unless your doctor recommends it. Doing so can cause side effects like skin itching and flushing, nausea, and more.
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 daily amounts of fiber are:
- men 50 and under: 38 grams
- men over 50: 30 grams
- women 50 and under: 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:
- orange: 1.8 grams
- pear: 1.1 to 1.5 grams
- peach: 1.0 to 1.3 grams
- asparagus (1/2 cup): 1.7 grams
- potato: 1.1 grams
- whole wheat bread (1 slice): 0.5 grams
- oatmeal (1 1/2 cups): 2.8 grams
- kidney beans (175 milliliters, approximately 3/4 cup): 2.6 to 3 grams
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.
Phytosterols are waxes derived from plants. They prevent your intestines from absorbing cholesterol. They’re naturally present in whole grains, nuts, 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!
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.
Garlic is thought to have other health benefits, though, including lowering blood pressure. Enjoy it in your food or take it as a supplement.
Red yeast rice is white rice that has been fermented with yeast. It’s eaten and used as a medicine in China.
Some red yeast rice supplements have been shown to lower cholesterol, because they contain monacolin K. This has the same chemical makeup as lovastatin, a cholesterol-lowering medicine.
However, you won’t find monacolin K in the red yeast rice sold in America because the FDA ruled in 1998 that monacolin K was a medicine and couldn’t be sold as a supplement.
You can still find red yeast rice supplements, but they don’t contain monacolin K.
Red yeast rice may also cause kidney, liver, and muscle damage.
One 2014 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.
You can take ginger as a supplement or powder or simply added, raw, to food.
Flax is a blue flower grown in temperate climates. Both its seeds and the oil drawn from them 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 flaxseed ground, not whole. Our bodies can’t break down the shiny outer shell of the seed.