Having high cholesterol levels is considered a significant risk factor for heart disease. Having excess LDL, often known as “bad” cholesterol, in your bloodstream may increase your risk of heart disease by contributing to atherosclerosis, or the formation of plaque in your arteries.
To reduce your heart disease risk, it’s essential to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Fortunately, making dietary changes, such as increasing your intake of heart-healthy fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, can help you achieve and maintain optimal cholesterol levels.
Here are 13 of the best foods to lower cholesterol.
Studies show that eating oats regularly can significantly reduce heart disease risk factors, including high total and LDL cholesterol levels.
Oats and oat bran are concentrated sources of a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which helps lower cholesterol by preventing the absorption of cholesterol in the GI tract and increasing cholesterol excretion through the stool.
A 2022 review that included 13 studies found that the consumption of dietary oat beta-glucan was associated with significantly lower total and LDL cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol.
Nuts and seeds are a rich source of soluble fiber and can help reduce cholesterol levels when consumed as part of a nutritious diet.
Almonds are a popular type of nut that has been consistently linked with heart health benefits, including reduced cholesterol levels. Numerous studies have shown that incorporating almonds into your diet is an easy and effective way to improve and protect heart health.
A 2023 review of 19 studies found that the consumption of nuts, including almonds, is effective for decreasing total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, which can help boost heart health. The review also found that people who regularly consume nuts have lower levels of small dense LDL particles, which are more strongly linked to atherosclerosis development than larger LDL particles.
Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are excellent sources of fiber and other heart-protective nutrients and plant compounds such as anti-inflammatory flavonoid antioxidants.
Adding berries to your diet could benefit heart health in several ways, including lowering LDL cholesterol, boosting heart-protective HDL cholesterol, and lowering blood pressure levels.
A 2018 review found that berry intake was linked to reductions in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure, as well as improvements in levels of HDL cholesterol.
In addition to lowering cholesterol levels, berries may help protect against heart disease by reducing inflammation, improving artery function, and protecting against cellular damage.
Like almonds, walnuts are an excellent source of soluble fiber, which is effective for reducing cholesterol levels.
A 2022 review that included 13 studies from the U.S., Europe, and Asia found that walnut intake was associated with significant reductions in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, especially in people considered overweight and obese.
In addition to fiber, walnuts contain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), including α-linoleic acids, which activate LDL receptors that help remove excess LDL from the blood.
Beans are one of the best choices for lowering cholesterol levels. Beans are an excellent source of fiber, which binds to cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. In fact, research shows that eating about ¾ of a cup of beans per day may reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 19% and lower heart disease rates by 11%.
A 2021 study that included 73 adults with high LDL cholesterol found that daily consumption of one cup of mixed canned beans, including black, navy, pinto, dark red kidney, and white kidney beans, per day for four weeks significantly decreased total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by 5.46% and 8.08%, respectively. The researchers estimated that the reduction in LDL cholesterol equated to a 7% reduction in heart disease risk.
Avocados have been linked to several impressive benefits, including improving heart disease risk factors like high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol.
Studies show that eating avocados regularly may help increase heart-protective HDL cholesterol and decrease levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol, a type of cholesterol that’s significantly associated with atherosclerosis. In a 2020 study that included 45 men and women with high LDL levels, it was found that, compared to baseline, a moderate-fat diet with one fresh Hass avocado per day for five weeks significantly reduced total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol compared to moderate fat and low-fat diets. The avocado diet also significantly decreased blood levels of oxidized LDL compared with an average American diet.
However, it’s important to note that this study was funded by the Hass Avocado Board, which could have influenced the results of the study.
Flaxseeds are a good source of heart health-promoting nutrients, including soluble fiber and magnesium. Adding flaxseeds to your diet could help lower total and LDL cholesterol levels, thus supporting the health of your heart.
A 2020 review of 62 studies demonstrated that flaxseed supplementation significantly reduced total cholesterol by an average of -5.389 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) and LDL cholesterol by an average of -4.206 mg/dl, which could delay the progression of heart disease.
Though eating sweets like chocolate candies too often can harm the health of your heart, adding certain cocoa products to your diet, like unsweetened cocoa and cacao nibs, may help promote heart health by improving blood lipid levels, lowering inflammation, and supporting healthy blood pressure levels.
Studies show that cocoa and dark chocolate intake may help increase heart-protective HDL cholesterol levels and significantly decrease LDL cholesterol. Also, unsweetened cocoa products have also been shown to improve blood vessel function and blood flow, which can protect against heart disease risk.
Chia seeds are tiny seeds that are packed with nutrients, including fiber and healthy fats like PUFAs. Chias are one of the best sources of fiber you can eat. In fact, the fiber content of chia seeds exceeds dried fruit, cereals, and nuts.
Because they’re so rich in fiber, and other lipid-lowering nutrients like fatty acids, chia seeds are a good choice for those with high cholesterol. Studies show that eating chia seeds helps reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels in people with elevated blood lipid levels. Plus, chia seeds can help boost HDL cholesterol.
Okra is a highly nutritious vegetable that contains compounds called polysaccharides, which have lipid-lowering properties. Okra is also a good source of fiber, which is highly effective for lowering cholesterol levels.
A 2020 study found that eight weeks of okra powder consumption resulted in a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol as well as fasting blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.
Apples are a popular fruit that can benefit your health in several ways, including reducing high cholesterol levels. Because they’re rich in fiber, including soluble fiber, eating apples is a smart way to promote healthy blood lipid levels and keep your heart healthy.
A 2020 review concluded that whole-apple consumption is an effective way to reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, as well as systolic blood pressure and inflammatory markers. The researchers recommended a daily intake of 100 to 150 grams a day of whole apples to reduce heart disease risk, which equates to one small-to-medium-sized apple per day.
Buckwheat is a naturally gluten-free pseudo-grain that’s high in lipid-lowering nutrients, like fiber, flavonoids, and bioactive peptides.
Choosing buckwheat over refined grain products, like white rice and white bread, could help you lower your blood lipid levels, including total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and could also help improve your nutrient intake, as buckwheat is rich in vitamins and minerals like magnesium and potassium.
Studies show that people who eat fish more regularly tend to have healthier blood lipid levels, including higher levels of HDL cholesterol and lower levels of VLDL cholesterol, which could help protect against heart disease.
Fish, especially fatty fish like sardines, trout, and salmon, is an excellent source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, which are known to support healthy blood vessel function, plus vitamins and minerals like zinc, calcium, and selenium, making fish a good choice for overall health.
There are many factors that can contribute to high cholesterol levels, including your dietary choices. Though your diet as a whole is what matters most for heart health, limiting the following foods is wise if you have elevated blood lipid levels:
- Ultra-processed foods such as frozen foods, packaged snack foods, and fast food
- Added sugar, sugary drinks, and sweets like ice cream, cookies, candy, and cakes
- Fried and greasy foods such as fast food, fried chicken, and french fries
- Some high-fat animal products, like bacon, fatty cuts of meat, and sausage
- Alcohol such as beer, wine, and liquor
While limiting these foods can help reduce your blood lipid levels, it’s important to replace these items with nutrient-dense foods known to support heart health, like vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds.
In addition to following a well-rounded, nutritious diet, a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of exercise, quality sleep, and stress management can help support overall heart health and optimal blood lipid levels.
Staying physically active, getting at least seven hours of sleep per night, limiting alcohol, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy body weight are all essential for managing cholesterol levels.
It’s also important to understand that some people are genetically predisposed to have high cholesterol levels, which is known as familial hypercholesterolemia. People with familial hypercholesterolemia have a reduced capacity to remove excess LDL from their bloodstream and may require medical management in order to reduce their risk of heart disease. If you have familial hypercholesterolemia, your healthcare provider will recommend the best treatment based on your specific health needs.
If you have elevated cholesterol levels, there are plenty of ways to reduce your cholesterol while promoting overall heart health.
Following a diet rich in foods known to lower cholesterol levels, like oats, berries, beans, nuts, and seeds, is one of the best ways to support healthy blood lipid levels and reduce your heart disease risk.
If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels or need specific dietary recommendations for reducing cholesterol, speak with a trusted healthcare provider like a cardiologist or a registered dietitian who specializes in heart health.