Cholesterol is an essential fat-like substance in the body (1). Cholesterol is required to make cell membranes, hormones, and for proper gallbladder function (1). But, when levels get too high, it puts those at risk for health issues. Typically, unhealthy cholesterol level is when LDL (or low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels reach above 189 mg/dL (2), (3).
There are several contributors to high cholesterol levels, including family history, hypothyroidism, diabetes, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, smoking and a diet high in saturated and trans fats (1), (2), (4), (5). There are two forms of cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein), and LDL (low-density lipoprotein). HDL is often called the “good cholesterol,” and LDL is the “bad cholesterol” (6). The foods listed below help to lower the LDL cholesterol in the body or the bad cholesterol.
Summary: Cholesterol is needed in the body to make cell membranes, hormones, and enhance gallbladder function. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the “good” cholesterol and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the “bad” cholesterol. LDL cholesterol levels above 189 mg/dl typically cause damage to the body. There are some foods that can help lower cholesterol.
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Foods that lower cholesterol
Many factors contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels, such as lifestyle, exercise, and diet. Find out what foods you can start adding to your diet today to lower your cholesterol levels.
Many types of fish can help lower cholesterol including salmon (7), tuna, mackerel (8), and sardines (9). Fatty fish like these are extremely high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, both EPA and DHA, which are important for optimal functioning in the body (10), (11).
Fish is one of the best foods to consume to protect your heart. Many studies prove that they reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, making it a powerful nutritional food to help lower cholesterol (12). Fish is a great and easy protein to add to your diet. You can buy all these fish canned, fresh, frozen for convenience. It makes a quick meal with your favorite vegetable or pasta, too.
Summary: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids that protect the heart and help lower cholesterol . Fish is easy to cook, simply sauté it in oil with vegetables and serve with rice, or bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes for a quick, healthy dinner.
Avocado is another great food to include in most daily diets. Avocado is full of healthy fats and adding them to your diet may also help lower cholesterol (13). Avocado contains monounsaturated fats, which are remarkably healthy for the heart, decreasing cholesterol in the body (14).
In one study, healthy adults and those with high blood cholesterol who ate avocado had lower levels of total serum cholesterol in the body than those who did not (15). However, avocado can interact with some blood-thinning medications (16). Check with your doctor before adding avocado to your diet if you are on these medications.
Summary: Avocados contain good monounsaturated fats that help lower cholesterol, promote weight loss, and speed up metabolism. Avocado is simple to add to your daily diet, simply spread it on toast instead of butter, add to smoothies for a creamy texture, or top tacos with fresh guacamole.
Lentils are a great food to help lower cholesterol. Some studies show mounting evidence about the heart-healthy properties of lentils and other legumes (17). Any type of lentils can help to lower cholesterol, whether they are green, red, brown, black, or yellow (18).
Each type of lentil goes well in different dishes, and each one cooks differently as well. You can incorporate more lentils into your diet by swapping out meat protein a few times a week. Lentils are an excellent source of protein, and many vitamins and minerals such as essential B vitamins like thiamine, folate, niacin, iron, and potassium. They are also a great source of fiber (19).
Summary: Lentils are very high in protein, fiber, essential B vitamins, iron, and potassium. They have been shown to help lower cholesterol. Fiber is especially important for lowering cholesterol, making lentils a great choice. All types of lentils are healthy and can make great meatless meals. Add lentil to chili, soups, and stews, or serve as a side dish to salmon.
4. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are tiny black seeds that are full of nutrition. Chia seeds are mostly soluble fiber, which is important for healthy digestion. They are also notably powerful at lowering cholesterol for that reason (20). Chia seeds are a potent grain full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and protein (21).
These seeds have been in the food supply for over 5,500 years, originating in Mexico and Guatemala. If you have low blood pressure, chia seeds may not be a good option. They not only lower cholesterol, but they can also lower blood pressure, too (21).
Summary: Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber. This type of fiber is important for lowering cholesterol, and omega-3 fatty acids promote overall heart health. Chia seeds can also lower blood pressure. Toss them into smoothies, oatmeal, or yogurt daily.
Okra can also help lower total cholesterol in the body (22). Okra is a highly nutritious food that contains vitamin K, healthy fats, potassium, fiber, and more. Okra is rich in antioxidants. Okra goes well with many protein choices like lentils, lean meat, or even plain.
Summary: Okra contains vitamin K, protein, healthy fats, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants, making them a healthy food. Pair it with lentils, fish, lean meat, or eat as a side dish.
6. Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices have been a potent nutritional contributor for overall human health. They can help to lower total cholesterol levels, especially ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric, and coriander (23). These spices are staples in many Indian dishes, and they can have a positive effect on lowering cholesterol levels, improving heart health, and lowering inflammation in the body (24). Herbs and spices are a great addition to many meals, and they can help to flavor meals even more, especially to cut back on the sodium from excess salt.
Summary: Ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric, and coriander have shown positive cholesterol-lowering and anti-inflammatory effects. Focus on flavoring food with herbs and spices instead of salt to reap the healthful benefits and cut back on sodium.
Berries like blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries are nutrition powerhouses with fiber, vitamin C, K, antioxidants, and much more. This makes them an excellent food to lower cholesterol in the body (25), (26). Berries are also an easy food to add to many easy recipes. Toss some berries into your next breakfast to get the many benefits.
Summary: All berries contain high sources of fiber, vitamin C, K, and antioxidants. They are great for lowering cholesterol. Toss them into salads, blend in smoothies, use as a yogurt topping, or simply eat them as a refreshing snack or dessert option.
Quinoa is a healthy grain crop, although it is technically a seed (27). This staple food is an excellent choice for most people to consume, especially to lower cholesterol levels (28). This food goes well as a base for any dish that rice would go in. It’s an easy swap for many people, and it can be flavored well with herbs, seasonings, and olive oil.
Summary: Quinoa is full of fiber and B-vitamins, making it an excellent cholesterol-lowering food. Quinoa can take the place of rice in many dishes, or can even be eaten in place of oatmeal in the morning. Simply top it with berries, cinnamon, and sliced almonds for a fiber-filled breakfast.
This leafy green vegetable is full of potent nutritional properties. Spinach may also lower cholesterol levels in the body (29). Spinach is ok for most people in moderation. However, those with kidney issues, stones, or disease should limit or avoid their consumption of spinach. The high oxalates in spinach can cause kidney stones over time.
Summary: Spinach is a healthy food that can be sautéed in olive oil as a side, tossed into omelets, or blended into smoothies. If you have kidney issues, spinach does contain oxalates which may increase risk of kidney stones.
10. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter can also lower cholesterol levels. Peanut butter is full of healthy unsaturated fats, which help reduce LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease (30). Although peanuts and peanut butter are high in calories, do not be afraid to use peanut butter as a part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Summary: Rich in unsaturated fats that lower LDL cholesterol, peanut butter is a healthy option for many in moderation. Add peanut butter to oatmeal, smoothies, or pair it with apple slices.
Almonds contain many beneficial nutrients and an adequate amount of healthy fats. Almonds help to improve total blood cholesterol in the body, lowering LDL cholesterol in the blood (30), (31). Almonds also have high amounts of magnesium, vitamin E, potassium, fiber, and protein. This makes them an excellent snack.
Almond butter is another healthy option to include in a healthy diet. Add some almond butter to your next piece of toast or smoothie for a flavorful, nutritious boost.
Summary: Almonds are rich in healthy fats that lower LDL cholesterol. They are also high in magnesium, vitamin E, potassium, fiber, and protein. Snack on almonds, add them to salads or oatmeal, or spread almond butter on whole wheat toast.
12. Olive Oil
Olive oil has tons of nutritional benefits. Filled with healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, it lowers total cholesterol, and it can prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke (32), (33). Drizzle some olive oil on your fish, salad, or even eggs and tomato for your next meal, and reap the many health benefits.
Summary: Rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, olive oil is great for overall heart health. Drizzle on salads, fish, eggs, or fresh vegetables for a heart-healthy boost.
Olives are also high in powerful antioxidants, vitamin E, and help promote a healthy heart by lowering unhealthy cholesterol levels and even preventing osteoporosis (34), (35). Olives are an easy, healthy snack to keep around the house and enjoy when you get a craving for something salty.
Summary: Rich in antioxidants, vitamin E, and healthy fats, olives help lower cholesterol. Snack on some olives, or toss them into a fresh lettuce or pasta salad.
Chickpeas are high in essential nutrients and minerals, making them an excellent snack and meal to lower total cholesterol in the blood (36). Chickpeas are high in protein, making them a great substitution for meat in many meals, too. You can eat chickpeas as a crunchy, baked snack, or enjoy them soft in salads and hot dishes. You can also buy or make your hummus to get some more nutritional power from chickpeas into your diet.
Summary: Chickpeas are rich in protein and fiber, making them a great meatless meal and cholesterol-lowering option. Chickpeas go very well in chilis, soups, stews, or can even be pureed into many hummus flavors.
Grapes are full of antioxidants like vitamin C, quercetin, lutein, and lycopene. They help to promote a healthy heart and eating grapes can help lower cholesterol levels (37). Grapes are also high in the antioxidant called resveratrol. There is some preliminary evidence that resveratrol may lower the risk of heart disease, but more research is needed (38). These tiny fruits are an easy way to get in healthy nutrition as a delicious snack the whole family can enjoy.
Summary: Grapes contain antioxidants such as vitamin C, resveratrol, quercetin, lutein, and lycopene, making them a very heart-healthy food. Simply snack on them, halve them and add to salads, or blend frozen grapes into smoothies.
Eggplants contain an extensive list of nutrients necessary for optimal health. For that reason, they are a powerful food to fight high cholesterol levels (39). Eggplant is also full of heart-healthy antioxidants, vitamin C, K, potassium, folate, protein, and more. It is an easy food to add to a healthy diet, too. Try some new ways to cook eggplant by grilling it, baking it, or mixing it in with other vegetables.
Summary: Eggplant is full of heart-healthy, cholesterol-lowering antioxidants, vitamin C, K, potassium, folate, and protein. Eggplant can be easily grilled, baked, sautéed, or mixed into other vegetable dishes.
Cherries are full of nutrients and anti-inflammatory compounds, making it an excellent food to help lower cholesterol levels (40). Cherries have many other potential health benefits too. They can help to aid in muscle recovery and may help with symptoms of arthritis and gout (41), (42).
Summary: Cherries contain anti-inflammatory compounds and nutrients, an excellent food for lowering cholesterol. They may even aid in muscle recovery, and reduce symptoms of arthritis and gout. Mix tart cherries into smoothies, add to yogurt, or sip on tart cherry juice.
There are two types of cholesterol, HDL and LDL. It is important to have healthy cholesterol levels to promote overall health including heart health, hormone health, and much more. Make sure to always maintain a healthy weight, a lifestyle full of exercise and movement, and keep a healthy diet.
These are just some foods that can lower cholesterol in the body. If you think you have high LDL cholesterol, be sure to talk to your doctor about what you can do to resolve it. Food and lifestyle can significantly help reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels and raise the good type of cholesterol, known as HDL.
Take a moment to think about what foods you eat daily. Do they include a bunch from this list of cholesterol-lowering, heart-healthy foods? See how you can add more healthy cholesterol-lowering foods to your diet today to help prevent many common chronic diseases.