Cholesterol is a steroid lipid (fat) found in the blood and is necessary for proper functioning of cell membranes. Our bodies already manufacture all the cholesterol we need, so it is not necessary to consume more. High levels of cholesterol have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol lowering foods should be incorporated into everyone’s diet for optimal health. The percentages by which these foods lower cholesterol reflect people who have high levels of cholesterol greater than 200 mg/dL, and have been diagnosed with hypercholesterolemia. Different diets, lifestyles, and foods will work differently for different people. It is recommended that you buy a Cholesterol Test Kit, so you can monitor your cholesterol levels at home and see which diet and lifestyle works best for you. Below is a list of foods which lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol, while leaving the “good” HDL cholesterol largely unaffected.
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats (Olive Oil, Peanut Oil, Peanuts, Olives, Avocados)
Cholesterol Reduction: 18%
Substituting saturated animal fats and other high cholesterol foods with healthier fats like olive oil, peanut oil, and avocados is the most powerful thing you can do to achieve a drastic reduction in your LDL cholesterol. Specifically a diet high in olive and sunflower oil, that contains 12.9% saturated fat, 15.1% monounsaturated fat, and 7.9% polyunsaturated fat can achieve an 18% reduction in LDL cholesterol vs people on a diet higher in saturated fat.
Bran (Oat, Rice)
Cholesterol Reduction: 7-14%
Bran, particularly oat bran, has been proven effective in lowering LDL cholesterol levels. Add bran to hot cereals and bread. Also, eating whole oatmeal every morning, or switching to whole products like brown rice, can help you get more bran in your diet and lower your cholesterol numbers.
Cholesterol Reduction: 8-14%
Up to 50 grams of flax seeds a day has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol in healthy young adults by up to 8%, and 38 grams of flax seeds per day reduced LDL cholesterol by 14% in people with high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia). In both studies the flax seeds where consumed in a muffin or other bread product. Flax seeds are easily incorporated in baked goods, as well as added to hot cereals like oatmeal.
Cholesterol Reduction: 9-12%
Studies have shown that less than half a clove (900mg) of raw garlic a day can lower cholesterol by 9-12%. Raw garlic is best and can be added to olive oil salad dressings, or as a garnish on soups and sandwiches.
Cholesterol Reduction: 5-10%
Several studies report that eating up to a cup of almonds can reduce cholesterol levels by up to 10%. In a dose response study it was found that half a cup of almonds reduces cholesterol by 5% and 1 cup causes the full 10% reduction. As almonds are a high calorie food, it is not recommended that you eat more that a cup. Almonds are great as a snack, or as an addition to breakfast cereals like oatmeal.
Cholesterol Reduction: 0-17%
Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their red color and is found in tomatoes, watermelon, and various other high lycopene foods. Studies are conflicting as to whether lycopene reduces LDL cholesterol or not. Some studies report a 10-17% reduction while other studies find no difference. Despite this difference, lycopene is thought to generally promote heart health whether it lowers LDL cholesterol or not.
Walnuts and Pistachios
Cholesterol Reduction: 10%
Numerous studies report a reduction in cholesterol with consumption of walnuts or pistachios. This is especially true when the fats from the nuts replace consumption of other high cholesterol fats. Consuming around 30 grams of walnuts, or having the nuts be about 20-30% of total caloric intake is necessary to achieve the cholesterol lowering benefits.
Cholesterol Reduction: 7-10%
Like the bran from oats and rice, barley reduces cholesterol, particularly when it is used as a substitute for wheat products. Barley can easily substitute for wheat in the form of barley noodles, barley flour, or whole pearl barley.
Dark Chocolate and Plant Sterols
Cholesterol Reduction: 2-5%
The plant sterols and cocoa flavanols in dark non-milk chocolate have been shown to reduce cholesterol by 2-5%. Further, plant sterols (phytosterols), found in all plants, and particularly plant oils like corn oil and soybean oil have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol by up to 16%. However, this reduction is largely due to inhibiting absorption of cholesterol, and would not have a large effect if you consumed little or no cholesterol.
Cholesterol Reduction: 2-5%
Green tea has long been a staple in East Asia where it is believed to wash oil (fat) out of the body. Studies suggest this may be true as green tea can lower cholesterol by 2-5%. Green tea without sugar also has few calories (typically less than 10) and can make a great substitute for a variety of beverages.