11 Foods that Actively Lower Your Cholesterol

11 Foods that Actively Lower Your Cholesterol

Looking to reduce your cholesterol quickly with diet? Read on for a list of foods that are backed up by scientific research. Hint: all of these foods are also great for your gut and overall well-being!

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor before taking supplements to avoid any potential disease and drug interactions.

Foods that Lower Cholesterol List

Foods that actively lower cholesterol work together. If you eat enough of the foods from this list, you’ll be targeting several cholesterol-lowering mechanisms at once!

Top foods that lower cholesterol infographic with food images

Ways to Lower Cholesterol Naturally

Weight loss, exercise, diet 

High cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart disease, the number one cause of death worldwide. According to estimates, the number of people with heart disease is constantly on the rise (Mannu et al., 2013). 

Yet, studies suggest that most people can reduce their cholesterol levels and heart disease risk with simple dietary and lifestyle changes (Rensburg, 2018). 

Aside from regular exercise and losing extra pounds, diet is the single most important factor that can help you get your cholesterol levels under control naturally (Mannu et al., 2013). 

Various foods have been researched for their cholesterol-lowering effects, but they’re not all equal. In this article, we’ll focus on foods that help you actively lower your LDL or “bad” cholesterol. 

So, what exactly does that mean? Let’s break down the terminology. 

Target LDL cholesterol: the bad guy

The standard definition of high cholesterol means that your total cholesterol is above the normal range. But that doesn’t mean much. Both excessively high and low total cholesterol increases your heart disease risk. You need to look at the type of cholesterol that’s high (Peters et al., 2016). 

The most dangerous type of cholesterol is LDL cholesterol. LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. LDL cholesterol can stick to blood vessels, team up with free radicals, and directly cause inflammation. High LDL levels directly increase your risk of heart disease and stroke (Abdullah et al., 2018). 

HDL (stands for high-density lipoprotein) is the “good” cholesterol. HDL can protect your heart and blood vessels, so you want to have higher-normal levels of this type of cholesterol (Cooney et al., 2008). 

The ideal diet should focus on foods that can lower your LDL cholesterol, keep your HDL cholesterol high enough, and maintain your total cholesterol levels in the optimal range. 

Eat active cholesterol-lowering foods

In a nutshell, your cholesterol levels could be high because you’re either absorbing too much of it from food or your body is producing excessive amounts. Whether you’re a cholesterol “hyperabsorber” or a “hyperproducer” is affected by your genetics, diet, lifestyle, age, and other factors (Lütjohann et al., 2019).

There’s a big difference between foods that actively lower your cholesterol and those that have a passive effect. 

Only following a low-cholesterol diet like the American Heart Association Step 2 diet is passive. Your cholesterol levels may drop because less cholesterol is entering your body. But, you’re not doing anything to address the potential reason why your cholesterol is high (Janapala & Reddivari, 2021).

Also, be wary of foods with “low-cholesterol” labels. Many have high levels of saturated fat or trans fat, the worst type of fat for your heart and overall health. 

On the other hand, foods that block cholesterol absorption like fiber are active. So are foods that help reduce the amount of cholesterol your liver will produce, such as certain probiotics and veggies. Probiotic foods may also help your body get better at burning cholesterol and producing beneficial short-chain fatty acids (Gunness & Gidley, 2010; Kumar et al., 2012). 

Foods that Actively Lower Your Cholesterol

1) Fiber-rich foods

The best researched fiber-rich foods include:

  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Rice bran

Barley and oats have been individually found to be likely effective at reducing cholesterol in human studies. Barley helped whether it was used as a whole grain, oil, or concentrated fiber. A diet high in oats reduced high LDL cholesterol in several studies (Shimizu et al., 2008; Lupton et al. 1994; Behall et al., 2004; Braaten et al., 1994; Ripsin et al.,1992

Both barley and oats are high in beta-glucans, immune-supportive prebiotic fiber—the key active ingredient in these grains (Shimizu et al., 2008; Braaten et al., 1994). 

Rice bran oil also lowered LDL cholesterol while maintaining normal HDL levels in healthy people with slightly increased cholesterol (Most et al., 2015). 

In other human studies, soluble fiber reduced LDL cholesterol by 4 to 18%. Pectin and psyllium are concentrated sources of soluble fiber (Wood et al., 2007; Bell et al., 2009; Wei et al., 2009).

Many other foods we cover in the next section—like nuts, legumes, fruits, and mushrooms—are also high in prebiotic fiber. Fruits and vegetables are especially high in soluble fiber. 

2) Nuts 

Nuts that may help lower cholesterol levels include:

  • Walnuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecans

 Nuts are rich in healthy fats, prebiotic fiber, protein, and many other nutrients that support good health. 

It’s a good idea to aim for 2 to 3 servings of nuts per day. This amount decreased LDL by about 10.2 mg/dL, based on a scientific analysis of an impressive 25 human trials spanning 7 countries (Sabaté & Ros, 2010). 

Nuts like walnuts and macadamia nuts boast high levels of healthy fatty acids. Adding walnuts to a typical low-fat diet seems to lower total cholesterol by up to 12% and LDL cholesterol by up to 16%, according to small clinical trials (Zambon et al., 2000; Chisholm et al., 1998). 

A macadamia nut-rich diet also lowered total and LDL cholesterol in one trial of 25 people, compared to the average American diet (Sabaté et al., 1993). 

3) Legumes

Legumes like beans, chickpeas, lentils, and soy are exceptionally high in plant protein and prebiotic fiber. Increasing them in your diet may have many health benefits, as long as you are buying organic (Vendômois et al., 2010). 

Eating half a cup of legumes per day may reduce LDL cholesterol by an average of 6.6 mg/dL, based on a meta-analysis of 26 clinical trials (Ha et al., 2014). 

An ounce of soy per day slightly lowered LDL in another meta-analysis of almost 3k participants. It had a stronger effect in people with already high cholesterol levels (Tokede et al., 2015). 

There are some potential cons to regular soy consumption to have in mind, though. 

Limited research suggests that soy may be an endocrine disruptor, particularly in children  (Patisaul, 2018). 

Does this apply to organic soy? Possibly not. 

Most soy nowadays is mass-produced using GMO crops that are treated with pesticides. One animal study reveals that the more processed soy is, the more likely it is to stimulate the growth of breast cancer tumors (Helferich et al., 2008).

4) Flaxseed

Flaxseed is another well-researched heart-healthy food. It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, prebiotic lignans, and fiber

Research reveals that eating 2 tablespoons of flaxseed (30g) per day may lower total cholesterol by about 7% and LDL cholesterol by 10% in postmenopausal women (Patade et al., 2008). 

The same amount of milled flaxseed lowered cholesterol in another study in patients with peripheral artery disease. Peripheral artery disease is when blood vessels in the legs or lower extremities become narrowed, usually due to high cholesterol and atherosclerosis (Edel et al., 2015). 

5) Olive oil & other healthy fats

Healthy fats that may help lower cholesterol include:

  • Olive oil
  • Nut and seed oils
  • Black cumin oil

Olive oil and nut and seed oils are high in beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Olive oil is also anti-inflammatory, so it’s the perfect choice for anyone looking to support cardiovascular health.

Several human studies suggest that consuming 2-10 tsp of extra virgin olive oil per day may help reduce LDL cholesterol (Violi et al., 2015; Khaw et al., 2018). 

In other studies, following a diet high in olive oil, peanut oil, or peanuts and peanut butter lowered LDL by 14% on average, when compared to diets high in saturated fat (Kris-Etherton et al., 1999; Gill et al., 2003). 

Black cumin oil is another anti-inflammatory, heart-protective oil. According to analyses in people with diabetes and high cholesterol, black cumin seems to lower LDL by an average of 22 mg/dL (Daryabeygi-Khotbehsara et al., 2017). 

6) Avocado

Avocados are packed with healthy fats (MUFAs), antioxidants, and prebiotic fiber (Thompson et al., 2021). 

An avocado-rich diet—eating one avocado per day—lowered high total cholesterol by about 17% and LDL cholesterol by 22% in human studies. It seems to be especially beneficial in people with mildly elevated cholesterol who also have high triglycerides (Ledesma et al., 1996; Wang et al., 2020). 

7) Probiotic foods 

According to large scientific analyses, Lactobacillus probiotics may reduce LDL in healthy participants, smokers, and those with high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity (Shimizu et al., 2015Wu et al., 2017). 

You can get your daily dose of Lactobacillus probiotics from food or supplements

8) Mushrooms & algae

Beneficial sources include:

Like oats, mushrooms and algae contain prebiotic beta-glucans—a type of soluble fiber that boosts gut health and immunity (Akramiene et al., 2007). 

Beta-glucans from medicinal mushrooms can increase your beneficial gut bacteria (Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria) and anti-inflammatory small-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) (Cerleti et al., 2021).

According to meta-analyses, getting 3 g/day of beta-glucans reduces LDL by 8 mg/dL in people with high cholesterol (Zhu et al., 2015). 

Research also suggests that spirulina, a type of blue-green algae, may reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 41 mg/dL (Serban et al., 2016). 

9) Green tea

Green tea is a powerhouse of antioxidants. Drinking green tea reduced LDL in studies of overweight or obese participants and in people at high risk of heart disease (Yuan et al., 2018; Kim et al., 2011; Zhao et al., 2015). 

10) Garlic

Eating garlic every day for at least 2 months lowers LDL cholesterol, according to findings from 39 studies that included over 2k people with high cholesterol. Studies used up to 5.6 g/day of garlic powder, 1-7 g/day of garlic extract, or 4-10 g/day of raw garlic (Ried et al., 2013).

11) Broccoli, cabbage & fruit

Lastly, be sure to include enough fruits and cruciferous veggies in your diet!

These foods are rich in diverse antioxidants that help balance cholesterol, heart health, and overall wellness. 

In clinical studies, drinking a small glass of juice with broccoli, cabbage, and fruit twice daily for 12 weeks reduced LDL cholesterol by 8.5% (Takai et al., 2013)

Meanwhile, berries are a concentrated source of anthocyanins, potent antioxidants that are being studied for improving LDL cholesterol, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome (Aboonabi et al., 2020). 

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Ana Aleksic

Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy)

Ana is an integrative pharmacist and scientist with many years of medical writing, clinical research, and health advising experience. She loves communicating science and empowering people to achieve their optimal health. Ana has edited 800+ and written 200+ posts, some of which reached over 1 million people. Her specialties are natural remedies, drug-supplement interactions, women’s health, and mental health. She is also a birth doula and a strong advocate of bridging scientific knowledge with holistic medicine.

 

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