There are two types of cholesterol, LDL and HDL. LDL aka low-density lipoproteins is the bad cholesterol and HDL aka high-density lipoproteins is the good cholesterol. LDL is bad because it can build up on the walls of your blood vessels, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. HDL is good because it can help clear these buildups by eliminating part of the bad cholesterol from the body. A high level of HDL is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Diet has a powerful effect and can help lower cholesterol levels.
1. Foods rich in unsaturated fats
A diet high in saturated fats may raise LDL levels, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Sources of saturated fats to avoid include
- Fatty pieces of meat such as beef and lamb
- Pork and chicken products
- Dairy products including whole milk, cream, butter, shortening, and cheese
- Coconut and palm oils
There are two types of unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Research shows that consuming plant-based monounsaturated fats may help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality. Your body needs polyunsaturated fats to function.
There are two types of polyunsaturated fats, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly beneficial for heart health. Omega-6 is anti-inflammatory but consuming too much of it may increase inflammation.
Sources of monounsaturated fats
Sources of polyunsaturated fats
- Fatty fish such as sardines, tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, and herring
- Ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
Sources of omega-6 fatty acids
- Canola oil
- Safflower oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
- Walnut oil
- Corn oil
There is research linking a decrease in cardiovascular disease to replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats.
2. Fruits, vegetables, and legumes
Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and plant chemicals that help you stay healthy. Most of them have little or no calories and help you maintain a healthy weight. Fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are high in fibre can help lower cholesterol levels. The high fibre blocks some cholesterol from being absorbed from the intestines to the bloodstream.
Dark leafy vegetables are antioxidant-rich which help get rid of harmful free radicals that can lead to hardened arteries. High fibre foods like beans also keep you feeling fuller longer which helps with managing weight. Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats which help lower cholesterol.
- Citrus fruits (including but not limited to oranges, tangerine, grapefruit, lemon, key lime, kumquat)
Vegetables and legumes
Nuts are an exceptionally nutrient-dense food and are also high in monounsaturated fats. They also have calcium, magnesium, and potassium which may lower blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease. They are fibre-rich which helps block cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. This leads to lower cholesterol overall. All nuts bestow these benefits. Some notable mentions include:
- Walnuts – rich in omega 3
- Almonds – rich in L-arginine which helps regulate blood pressure
- Brazil nuts
- Cashew nuts
4. Whole grains especially oats and barley
Extensive research finds a connection between whole grains and a lower risk of heart disease. Whole grains are so named because they keep all parts of the grain intact. This leaves them with more vitamins, minerals, plant compounds, and fibre than refined grains.
One study found that eating three servings of whole grains daily lowered the risk of heart disease and stroke by 20%. Benefits were greater for people who ate more servings, up to 7 times per day. Two grains are particularly noteworthy, oats and barley both of which are rich in soluble fibres that help lower cholesterol.
5. Soy products
Soybeans are a legume that may be beneficial for heart health. One study found that soy protein reduces LDL cholesterol by 3-4% in adults. Another study found that while lowering LDL, it also increased HDL which is the good cholesterol. This makes soy products such as tofu, soy milk, and soy yoghurt suitable for people working towards lower cholesterol numbers.
6. Dark chocolate and cocoa
Cocoa, the primary ingredient in the making of dark chocolate has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that promote heart health. One study found that drinking cocoa resulted in lower cholesterol for participants. It also decreased their blood pressure. A word of caution though when it comes to eating dark chocolate products, do so in moderation because they can be high in saturated fats and sugar.
7. Green tea
Green tea has antioxidant compounds that seem to help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. Black tea can also have a positive impact but to a lesser extent than the green variants. Caffeine in tea also has the added benefit of raising HDL levels.
Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts are basically your new friends if you are trying to lower your cholesterol.