Food directly affects many aspects of your health, including your heart health. Certain foods can improve cholesterol levels and, in turn, reduce the risk of heart disease. Maintaining normal cholesterol levels by choosing heart-healthy foods will help you lead a healthier lifestyle.
This article will explore various types of foods and how they can be part of your cholesterol management plan.
In addition to being a good source of plant-based proteins and minerals like iron and magnesium, beans are also an excellent source of fiber. In particular, beans are rich in soluble fiber, which dissolves in water to form a gel-like material as it passes through the digestive tract. Soluble fiber is known to lower cholesterol, especially LDL or "bad" cholesterol .
Nuts may be small, but they contain a large number of nutrients, including healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants. According to a review of three large prospective cohort studies, people who ate the most nuts had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease.
Walnuts are especially beneficial for heart health because they contain an essential omega-3 fat called alpha linolenic acid (ALA). ALA has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke.
Almonds are another nut that is often studied for its heart health benefits, as they are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants like vitamin E. Research reviews have shown that eating almonds can not only lower LDL cholesterol, it also lowers LDL cholesterol. it can also maintain "good" HDL cholesterol levels , which can help lower your risk of heart disease.
Avocados are not only a delicious addition to your diet, they are also healthy for your heart. This green fruit contains lots of healthy monounsaturated fats and dietary fiber that help lower LDL cholesterol, especially when eaten in place of less healthy saturated fats.
A 2020 randomized controlled trial found that overweight or obese people who ate an avocado a day as part of an overall heart-healthy diet had an improved LDL cholesterol profile from the start.
Fish is well known as a source of lean protein and is often touted for its heart health benefits.
Your doctor may have even recommended eating more fish, taking fish oil supplements, or following a Mediterranean diet (fish is the main ingredient) to improve your cholesterol levels. This is because fish, especially oily fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and trout, are packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids .
A large 25-year follow-up study published in 2016 found that adults who ate raw fatty fish had a reduced risk of developing metabolic syndrome. This syndrome includes a group of risk factors, such as low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides, that increase the risk of heart disease.
Barley is a whole grain rich in beta-glucans. Beta glucans are a type of soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol levels by interacting with fats and bile salts in the digestive tract.
A 2016 review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials showed that beta-glucan from barley reduces LDL cholesterol and other non-HDL cholesterol levels. For this reason, the inclusion of foods containing barley in the diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Soybeans are legumes with a high content of vegetable protein. Soy is found in edamame and other foods like tofu, tempeh, soy milk, etc. One study found that eating around 30 grams of soy foods a day lowered cholesterol levels, which lowered the risk of heart disease.
Another review of 35 studies concluded that soy foods are beneficial for heart health, especially in people with high cholesterol, including improving LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol levels.
It may seem counterintuitive, but adding a little bit of dark chocolate and cocoa to your diet can benefit your heart. Research has shown that the flavonoids found in dark chocolate and cocoa can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Specifically, a clinical trial involved 84 people who consumed two grams of dark chocolate or two grams of milk chocolate for six months. After six months, total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol were significantly lowered and blood pressure improved significantly in those who ate 70% dark chocolate compared to those who ate milk chocolate.
However, you shouldn't eat too much chocolate, as it often contains a lot of added sugars, which can negatively affect your heart health. It is best to limit your daily intake of dark chocolate to one serving and choose one that contains 70% cocoa or more.
Apples, citrus and berries
Fruit is part of any heart-healthy diet, and for good reason. Many fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and antioxidants. Pectin, a special type of soluble fiber found in many fruits, including apples, citrus fruits, and berries, helps in part to lower cholesterol levels by reducing the amount of cholesterol made by the liver.
A small clinical trial in 40 adults found that those who ate two apples a day for eight weeks had lower levels of LDL and total cholesterol than a control apple drink.
The antioxidant compounds called polyphenols found in these fruits also have anti-inflammatory effects, which can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and preventing its oxidation.
Including vegetables in your diet is beneficial for many reasons, including heart health. Like fruits, vegetables are rich in nutrients, rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Plus, they are low in calories and fat, making them heart healthy.
Dietary fiber from whole foods, including vegetables, can lower your risk of heart disease by lowering total and LDL cholesterol.
Tea has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol-lowering properties called polyphenols. These compounds can help prevent heart disease and stroke.
While some studies have been mixed, most studies seem to agree that both green and black teas are beneficial for heart health.
A staple in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is often studied for its heart health benefits. Extra virgin olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats that help lower LDL cholesterol. It is also a good source of polyphenols, which can help reduce inflammation and the risk of heart disease.
Replacing saturated fats (like butter) with extra virgin olive oil in your diet can provide heart protection.
Foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols
Plant sterols and stanols are compounds found naturally in small amounts in many plant foods, including grains, greens, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. They help lower cholesterol levels by blocking the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream.
Many food manufacturers add plant sterols and stanols to their products, from margarine and cheese to orange juice and bread. You can also find plant sterols and stanols in supplement form. When taken two grams per day, plant sterols or stanols can lower LDL cholesterol by 8-10%.
Frequently asked questions
What Foods Can Quickly Lower Cholesterol Levels?
No food will change your cholesterol levels overnight. It can take months for cholesterol levels to be lowered only through dietary changes or in combination with physical activity. Focus on an overall healthy diet that includes foods high in fiber, healthy unsaturated fats, and antioxidants.
What foods can lower cholesterol levels the most?
Rather than focusing on one or two foods to lower cholesterol, it is more beneficial to include several foods to lower cholesterol in different ways. The main dietary components of a healthy diet include lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains instead of highly refined ones, lean proteins, and healthy fats instead of saturated and trans fats.
Additionally, consuming foods or supplements enriched with plant sterols and stanols can help lower cholesterol levels.
What Foods Should You Avoid If You Have High Cholesterol?
Contrary to popular belief, dietary cholesterol may not have as strong an effect on blood cholesterol as previously thought. Instead, saturated and trans fats have been shown to be the biggest culprits in increasing blood cholesterol levels.
Foods high in saturated fat often include animal products like red meat, butter, and cheese, and highly processed snacks and desserts like cookies, cakes, French fries, ice cream, and baked goods.
Foods that can improve cholesterol levels include beans, nuts, avocados, fatty fish, barley, soybeans, dark chocolate, certain fruits, vegetables, tea, olive oil, and foods enriched with plant sterols and stanols. These foods should be eaten in variety and as part of a lifestyle that also reduces saturated and trans fats and includes exercise.
Get the word of drug information
In addition to the Mediterranean diet, other healthy eating models include Dietary Approaches to Combat Hypertension (DASH) and Therapeutic Diet for Lifestyle Change (TLC) .
Always check with your healthcare professional before starting a new diet or if you are concerned about cholesterol levels. They will answer any questions you may have and help you find the right treatment plan for you.