Some foods may help lower your cholesterol. These could include legumes, beans, nuts, avocados, and fatty fish, among others.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is made by the liver and carried through your bloodstream by lipoproteins.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), our bodies generate enough blood cholesterol on their own. However, in 2020 nearly 86 million adults in the United States had high cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol has been associated with several health conditions, such as heart attack and stroke.
Your diet may play a key role in helping you manage your cholesterol levels.
Keep reading to learn about 13 foods you can eat to help lower your cholesterol.
Legumes, also known as pulses, are a group of plant foods that include beans, peas, and lentils.
A 2021 study compared the effects of eating beans or white rice on LDL levels. After 29 days, the researchers found that the group who consumed 1 cup of beans each day had significantly lower LDL levels than on day 1.
Similarly, a 2019 review found that eating legumes helped lower LDL levels.
Legumes may also decrease your risk of certain health conditions, such as:
Try swapping legumes for refined grains and processed meats in dishes like chili, salads, and pasta.
Avocados are a rich source of monounsaturated fats and fiber, two nutrients that help lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol.
A 2015 study in 45 adults with obesity measured the effects of avocados on LDL cholesterol. The researchers found that participants who ate one avocado daily lowered their LDL levels more than those who didn’t eat avocados.
Similarly, a 2016 review of 10 studies determined that substituting avocados for other fats was linked to lower total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides.
There are many ways to eat avocados, such as in salads, guacamole, and on toast.
The authors of a 2023 review found that nuts helped lower levels of LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol. In particular, the following nuts had many benefits:
According to a 2016 review, one study found that eating a daily serving of nuts is linked to a 30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
The authors note that walnuts are also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. These are a type of polyunsaturated fats that have been associated with improved heart health, lower LDL cholesterol levels, and reduced inflammation.
Similarly, almonds in particular are a natural source of phytosterols, which may help lower your LDL cholesterol.
Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are excellent sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
A 2022 review suggests that these could increase HDL cholesterol and decrease LDL cholesterol, which may lower your risk of developing certain conditions. These may include:
A 2017 review of 14 studies found that eating oily fish was associated with increased levels of HDL cholesterol and lower levels of triglycerides.
In a large 25-year study in adults, people who ate the most non-fried fish were the least likely to develop metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that includes high blood pressure and low HDL levels.
The healthiest ways to cook fish are steaming or stewing. Fried fish may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Extensive research ties whole grains to lower heart disease risk.
For example, a 2016 review of 45 studies linked eating three servings of whole grains daily to a 19% lower risk of heart disease and a 12% lower risk of stroke. Benefits were even greater when people ate up to seven servings of whole grains per day.
Whole grains keep all parts of the grain intact. This provides them with more vitamins, minerals, plant compounds, and fiber than refined grains.
While all whole grains may promote heart health, two grains are particularly noteworthy:
- Oats help lower LDL cholesterol because they contain beta-glucan. This is a type of soluble fiber that influences the gut microbiome and helps excrete cholesterol and bile in your stool.
- Barley is also rich in beta-glucans and can help lower LDL cholesterol.
Fruit is an excellent addition to a heart-healthy diet for several reasons.
Many types of fruit are rich in soluble fiber. This helps lower cholesterol levels by encouraging your body to get rid of cholesterol and stopping your liver from producing this compound.
A 2012 study found that pectin, a type of soluble fiber, may lower cholesterol by up to 10%. It’s found in fruits including apples, grapes, citrus fruits, and strawberries, among others.
Fruits have bioactive compounds like anthocyanins, fiber, and phytosterol which may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. A 2019 study suggests that eating berries also helps increase HDL and lower LDL cholesterol.
It may seem too good to be true, but research suggests that dark chocolate and cocoa may lower LDL cholesterol.
In a 2015 study, adults drank a cocoa beverage twice a day for 1 month. They experienced a reduction in LDL cholesterol of 0.17 mmol/l (6.5 mg/dl). Their blood pressure also decreased and their HDL cholesterol increased.
A 2022 review also found that several compounds in cocoa may help with cholesterol management. For example, polyphenols may prevent the LDL cholesterol in your blood from oxidation, while resveratrol may increase HDL cholesterol.
However, chocolate is often high in added sugar, which negatively affects heart health. You should only use cocoa alone or choose dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 75–85% or higher.
Garlic contains various powerful plant compounds, including allicin.
A 2018 meta-analysis suggests that garlic may help lower LDL and total cholesterol.
That said, it’s important to note that large amounts of garlic are needed to achieve this. As such, garlic supplements may be more effective than other garlic preparations.
Soybeans are a type of legume that may be beneficial for heart health. However, research on how they affect cholesterol is mixed.
For example, a 2021 review suggests that soybean oil may help lower LDL cholesterol when it replaces saturated fats. Similarly, a 2015 review of 35 studies linked soy foods to reduced LDL and total cholesterol, as well as increased HDL cholesterol.
However, a 2020 study found that soy protein didn’t affect LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol.
To add more soy in your diet, try replacing meat with tofu or cooking with soybean oil.
Vegetables are a vital part of a heart-healthy diet because they’re rich in rich in fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients. They’ve also been associated with better LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol levels.
A 2020 review found that eating more than three servings of fruits and vegetables per day helped lower levels of tryglicerides, blood pressure, and LDL and total cholesterol.
A 2021 review of 37 guideline documents found that most of them suggested eating a diet high in vegetables.
Some ways to get more vegetables in your diet include making soups, cauliflower pizza crusts, and smoothies. You can also add vegetables to casseroles, sauces, and burgers.
Tea harbors many plant compounds that improve your heart health.
For example, a 2020 review of 31 studies found that green tea helps lower LDL and total cholesterol levels.
The primary compound in green tea responsible for these effects is catechins. These help lower inflammation, oxidation, and carcinogen levels.
Black tea and white tea have similar properties and health effects on cholesterol.
It’s important to note that although most studies associate tea with lower total and LDL cholesterol, research is mixed on its effects on HDL cholesterol.
Dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and Swiss chard contain lutein and other carotenoids, which are linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
Dark leafy greens may also help lower cholesterol levels. The authors of a 2019 study in rats suggest that this is done because they bind to bile acids and help your body excrete more cholesterol.
A 2011 study in guinea pigs also found that lutein lowers levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol and could help prevent cholesterol from binding to artery walls.
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most important foods in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.
A 2019 review compared the effects of olive oil with other plant-based oils on cholesterol levels. The researchers found that olive oil had a bigger impact on increasing HDL cholesterol. However, it didn’t have much effect on LDL and total cholesterol.
Similarly, a 2022 review found that consuming 20 grams per day of olive oil helped increase HDL cholesterol. However, overall, the authors concluded that olive oil had minimal impacts on LDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol.
More research is needed to fully support olive oil as a cholesterol-friendly food.
What are the 3 best foods for lowering cholesterol?
There are no specific “cholesterol-lowering” superfoods. However, some foods that may help lower your LDL cholesterol include dark leafy greens, legumes and beans, and green tea.
What should I eat if my cholesterol is high?
Some ways to lower your cholesterol include:
What are the worst foods for high cholesterol?
Some foods to avoid eating if you have high cholesterol include:
High cholesterol levels are a major risk factor for heart disease. However, you may lower this risk by incorporating certain foods into your diet.
Upping your intake of these foods will put you on the path to a balanced diet and keep your heart healthy.
You can also practice techniques like mindful eating to make sure you’re enjoying your meal and getting full without overdoing it.