Discover the 10 super foods you can eat to help reduce your cholesterol levels.
What is cholesterol?
Whenever we hear the word cholesterol, it’s natural to think it’s bad. And, in some cases it is, but cholesterol has many important functions in the human body.
Like most things in life, there is good and bad cholesterol. Cholesterol is carried around the body in specific proteins. Low-density lipoprotein or LDL is the harmful cholesterol carrying protein and contributes to the build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes.
Diet and cholesterol
Diet impacts your cholesterol levels both negatively and positively. Eating the wrong foods like those high in saturated fat can increase the amount of LDL in circulation and increase the risk of disease.
Equally, there are some foods which can lower your level of bad cholesterol. Eating some of these foods every day can have a real impact on your cholesterol and keep you healthy.
Plant sterols and stanols are fatty compounds found naturally in plant-based foods and have been shown to have cholesterol-lowering benefits. As a result, there are a wide array of plant sterol-enriched foods available in your local supermarket. These products are believed to have positive effects on bad cholesterol levels.
You should aim to consume up to 3g of plant stanols and sterols per day. There’s no need to eat more because you will see no extra benefit. There are many products and brands available such as Benecol and Flora Pro-Activ, many supermarkets also have their own branded products. Check the labels say they are ‘fortified with plant stanols or sterols’. Some of the products you could try include:
- Fat spread
- Enriched milk
- Yoghurt drinks
- Cereal bars
Oats are an excellent source of soluble fibre called beta-glucan which is renowned for its cholesterol-lowering effects.
It works by making your gastrointestinal tract more viscous. In other words, it attracts cholesterol to a gel it forms and limits the amount of cholesterol absorbed into your bloodstream.
It also binds to the bile acids in your gut which stimulates your body to make more bile acids from cholesterol. Therefore, this also helps to lower your cholesterol levels and reduces the amount of bad cholesterol in circulation.
Adding more fibre to your diet is also good for you in other ways, too. Fibre helps to keep your gastrointestinal tract healthy and aids digestion and motility. An easy way to get more beta-glucan into your diet is to have a bowl of porridge for breakfast in the morning. The healthiest way is to make it with water but if you prefer a creamier taste you can add milk instead, but choose lower fat options.
Just like oats, other whole grains like barley and bran can lower cholesterol levels. When you eat whole grains, that’s exactly what you are eating, the entire grain. Fibre sources like beta-glucan are found in the outer layer of whole grains which is one reason they are so good for you.
White bread and pasta, on the other hand, are called refined grains because they have their outer removed. Therefore, they lose some of the essential nutrients and is part of the reason they’re not so good for you.
Foods which come under the umbrella of whole grains include
- Oat-based cereals like Cheerios, Oatibix
- Pearl barley
- By eating foods which are rich in whole grains means you will feel fuller for longer, so you will be less likely to snack during the day. A positive of this is you will reduce the risk of unnecessary weight gain and reduce the likelihood of reaching for high-fat and high sugar snacks like crisps, cakes and sweets.
4.Fruit and Vegetables
Fruit and veg are also great sources of soluble fibre. There are many benefits of eating lots of fibre including the fact it can help to lower cholesterol. Examples of particularly ‘good’ fruit and vegetables are:
- Sweet potato
You should aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg per day. A portion is approximately 80 grams and it doesn’t matter if they are fresh, frozen, dried or tinned. They are also great for snacking because they contain little fat. Plus, they’re packed full of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants which help to prevent many diseases including cancer.
Tree nuts and peanuts are rich in various nutrients. They are high in unsaturated fat, fibre, vegetable protein and plant chemicals.
Eating nuts has been shown to lower circulating levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the bad type. Although the fat content of nuts contributes to their cholesterol-lowering abilities, other ingredients also have an important role. For example, nuts also naturally contain fibre and sterols which have cholesterol-lowering qualities.
Nuts are a perfect snack but try to choose unsalted varieties because salt can negatively affect your blood pressure and contribute to the development of heart disease.
Why not try:
- Brazil nuts
- Cashew nuts
- Macadamia nuts
Soya beans and foods made from them have long been publicised for their cholesterol-lowering effects. They are also packed full of nutrients and a good quality protein source.
Soya beans lower circulating LDL cholesterol levels and in turn, this also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s easy to incorporate more soya bean products into your diet and by doing so can help to lower your cholesterol.
You should try to incorporate two servings of soy foods into your daily diet. Why not try some of the following products:
- Soya milk
- Soya desserts
- Soya custard
- Edamame beans
- Roasted, also known as soya nuts
- Soya based meat alternatives
Fatty fish has numerous health benefits. It contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These are healthy fats for your heart and may help to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
It is recommended that we should all try to incorporate 2-3 portions of oily fish into our diet each week. Meat contains saturated fats which increase bad cholesterol. Whereas, the omega-3 fatty acids and other unsaturated fats found in oily fish helps to protect the heart and reduce cholesterol and triglycerides.
Our bodies need some fats to function properly. For example, we use fats to make energy, absorb vitamins from food as well as keep our brain and immune system healthy. However, some fats are not so good for us.
Saturated fats like those found in butter, ghee, lard, coconut oil and palm oil increase our blood cholesterol levels. However, simple changes to plant-based fats and oils can help to lower cholesterol and keep your heart healthy.
Choose vegetable, nut or seed oils instead, such as:
9.Foods high in unsaturated fats
Although we need some fats in our diet, it’s choosing the right ones which are key. When we think of fats, there are two main types, saturated and unsaturated. Eating too many saturated fats may increase blood cholesterol levels whereas unsaturated fats are better for your heart.
Saturated fats are found in foods like:
- Butter, lard, coconut and palm oils
- Dairy products
- Fatty meat
- Cured meats
However, you can cut down your saturated fat intake by making some simple swaps to foods which are higher in unsaturated fat, including:
- Vegetable, seed and nut oils
- Oily fish
- Soya based meat alternatives
- Semi-skimmed or skimmed milk
- Low-fat dairy
- Lean meat e.g. chicken and turkey (with the skin removed)
Although to many of us water sounds boring, it really is the best beverage to drink. Not least because it contains no calories or fat. However, water can also have a positive effect on your cholesterol levels. And, if that wasn’t enough, water is easily obtainable.
Hydration helps to keep your blood fluid, making it easy to pass through your arteries. It also increases your metabolism. Cholesterol increases the acidity in your body, but by drinking water, the acidity is diluted, preventing the damage cholesterol causes to the body.
These are just some of the foods which can help to keep your cholesterol levels in check. Physical activity also helps to regulate your cholesterol. So, remember to eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise daily if you can.
Othman, R, A et al. (2011). Cholesterol-Lowering Effects of oat B-Glucan. Nutrition Reviews: 69(6), pp 299-309.
Ramdath, D, D et al. (2017). Beyond the Cholesterol-Lowering Effect of Soy Protein: A Review of the Effects of Dietary Soy and Its Constituents on Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients: 9(4).
Ros, E. (2010). Health Benefits of Nut Consumption. Nutrients: 2(7), pp 652-682.