Food has a direct impact on many aspects of your health, including your heart health. Certain foods can improve your cholesterol levels, thereby lowering your risk of heart disease. Keeping your cholesterol in a normal range by choosing heart healthy foods can help you lead healthier lives.
This article describes different types of foods and how they can be part of your cholesterol control plan.
In addition to being a good source of vegetable protein and minerals like iron and magnesium, beans are also a good source of fiber. Beans, in particular, are high in soluble fiber, which dissolves in water to form a gel-like material when it passes through the digestive tract. Soluble fiber is known to lower cholesterol, especially LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.
Nuts may be small, but they are packed with nutrients, including healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants. In a review of three large prospective cohort studies, people who ate more nuts had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease.
Walnuts are especially good for heart health because they contain the essential omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack or stroke.
Almonds are another nut that is often studied for its heart health benefits, as they are high in mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants like vitamin E, which can help maintain “good” HDL cholesterol levels, which can help reduce your risk for heart disease decrease.
Not only are avocados a delicious addition to your diet, they’re also heart healthy. This green fruit is high in healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber that help lower LDL cholesterol levels, especially when consumed in place of less healthy saturated fats.
A 2020 randomized controlled study found that people who were overweight or obese who ate one avocado per day as part of an overall heart-healthy diet had an improved LDL cholesterol profile from baseline.
Fish is known as a lean source of protein and is often touted for its heart health benefits.
Your doctor may even have recommended eating more fish, taking a fish oil supplement, or following a Mediterranean diet (fish is a key ingredient) to improve your cholesterol levels. This is because fish – especially oily fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and trout – are full of heart-healthy omega-3s.
A large 25-year follow-up study published in 2016 concluded that adults who ate non-fried fatty fish were at lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome. This syndrome has a group of risk factors, including low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides, that increase your risk of heart disease.
Barley is a whole grain that is high in beta-glucans. Beta-glucans are a type of soluble fiber that lower cholesterol by interacting with fats and bile salts in the digestive tract.
A 2016 review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found that beta-glucan from barley lowers LDL cholesterol and other non-HDL cholesterol. Because of this, including foods containing barley in your diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Soybeans are a legume with a high content of vegetable protein. Soy is found in edamame and other foods like tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and more. One study found that consuming around 30 grams of soy foods a day lowered cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
Another review of 35 studies concluded that soy foods offer heart health benefits, especially in people with high cholesterol, including improvements in LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol levels.
It may seem counterintuitive, but adding a little dark chocolate and cocoa to your diet could benefit your heart. Studies have shown that the flavonoids found in dark chocolate and cocoa can reduce your risk of heart disease.
In particular, one clinical study looked at 84 people who consumed either two grams of dark chocolate or two grams of milk chocolate for six months. At the end of six months, total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol all decreased significantly, and blood pressure improved significantly in those who ate 70% dark chocolate compared to those who ate milk chocolate.
You shouldn’t eat too much chocolate, however, as it is often high in added sugar, which can have a negative impact on heart health. It is best to limit your daily intake of dark chocolate to one serving and choose one with a cocoa content of 70% or more.
Apples, citrus fruits and berries
Fruit is part of any heart-healthy diet, and for good reason. Many fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Pectin, a specific type of soluble fiber found in many fruits including apples, citrus fruits, and berries, helps lower cholesterol in part by reducing the amount of cholesterol made by the liver.
A small clinical study of 40 adults found that those who ate two apples a day for eight weeks had lower LDL and total cholesterol levels than the control apple drink.
Antioxidant compounds called polyphenols found in these fruits also provide anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and preventing it from being oxidized.
Including vegetables in your diet is beneficial for many reasons, including heart health. Just like fruits, vegetables are nutritious and high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Plus, they’re low in calories and low in fat, which makes them a heart-healthy choice.
Fiber from whole foods, including vegetables, can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering total and LDL cholesterol levels.
Tea contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties called polyphenols. These compounds can help prevent heart disease and stroke.
Although some studies have been mixed, the majority of research seems to agree that both green tea and black tea offer heart health benefits.
As a staple in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil has often been studied for its heart health benefits. Extra virgin olive oil is high in healthy monounsaturated fats that help lower LDL cholesterol. It’s also a good source of polyphenols, which can help reduce inflammation and your risk of heart disease.
Replacing saturated fats (like butter) with extra virgin olive oil in your diet can have heart protective benefits.
Food enriched with plant sterols and stanols
Plant sterols and stanols are compounds that are naturally found in small amounts in many plant foods, including grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. They help lower cholesterol by blocking the absorption of cholesterol into your 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. With a daily intake of two grams, plant sterols or stanols can lower LDL cholesterol levels by 8 to 10%.
frequently asked Questions
What foods can lower cholesterol quickly?
Not a single food will change your cholesterol levels overnight. Diet alone or in combination with physical activity can take months to lower cholesterol. Focus on an overall heart healthy diet by including high fiber foods, healthy unsaturated fats, and antioxidants.
Which foods can lower cholesterol the most?
Instead of focusing on one or two foods to lower cholesterol, it’s more beneficial to include multiple foods that lower cholesterol in different ways. The most important parts of a heart-healthy diet include plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains instead of highly refined, lean protein, and healthy fats instead of saturated and trans fats.
Additionally, consuming foods or supplements fortified with plant sterols and stanols can help lower cholesterol levels.
What foods should you avoid if you have high cholesterol?
Contrary to what was previously believed, dietary cholesterol may not have as much of an impact on blood cholesterol as was previously believed. Instead, it has been shown that saturated fats and trans fats are more likely to be responsible for increasing blood cholesterol levels.
Foods that are often high in saturated fat include animal products like red meat, butter, and cheese, as well as highly processed snacks and desserts like cookies, cakes, chips, ice cream, and pastries.
Foods that can improve your cholesterol levels include beans, nuts, avocados, oily fish, barley, soy, dark chocolate, certain fruits, vegetables, tea, olive oil, and foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols. These foods should be varied and enjoyed as part of a lifestyle that also reduces saturated and trans fats and includes exercise.
A word from Verywell
In addition to the Mediterranean diet, other heart-healthy eating patterns include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet.
Always consult your doctor before starting a new diet or if you are concerned about your cholesterol levels. They can answer all of your questions and help you find the right treatment plan for you.