The Best Foods and Diets for Lowering Cholesterol

Diets high in saturated fat often result in high cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association. Many Americans have high cholesterol because fast food is a staple of their diets. In addition to avoiding fast foods, eat foods that can actually help lower your LDL cholesterol levels. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the major carrier for cholesterol in the blood. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is filtered.


According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Omega-3-rich fish is one of the best cholesterol-reducing foods. Omega-3s can reduce cholesterol levels and high blood pressure and prevent blood clots. Fish with particularly high levels of Omega-3 include tuna, sardines, lake trout, and herring. Aim for a minimum of two servings of fish a week.


Foods with soluble fiber help reduce LDL levels by preventing some of the absorption of cholesterol in your intestines. According to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, soluble fiber helps to reduce LDL levels by increasing bile secretion. For every 1g of soluble fiber intake, LDL cholesterol levels will be 1-2mg\dl lower. Oatmeal is the perfect food for lowering your cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Oatmeal contains large amounts of soluble fiber, a substance that has been linked to a reduction in the ability of the intestines to absorb excess cholesterol. Consuming as little as 10 g of soluble fiber daily can decrease the blood's overall concentration of cholesterol--and LDL cholesterol in particular--by an amount substantial enough to allow an individual with cholesterol levels normally requiring cholesterol-controlling medication to regulate his cholesterol levels with diet alone.

The cholesterol-lowering effects of oats do not seem to be affected by the form in which the oats are consumed. Oatmeal made of quick-cooking oats or steel-cut oats, and even oats used in breads, muffins and other recipes appear to have the same effect on cholesterol. Oatmeal is inexpensive, easy to prepare and can be added to any diet with little effort. The simplest way to incorporate oatmeal is as a breakfast dish: oatmeal made from quick-cooking oats can be prepared in the microwave in a matter of minutes.

Green Tea

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, one clinical study found that men who drank green tea were more likely to have lower total cholesterol than those who did not. Green tea also raises the level of favorable, or HDL, cholesterol; these beneficial effects are thought to stem from polyphenols that reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream.

Olive Oil

Olive oil contains antioxidants that can help reduce LDL levels. It removes LDL cholesterol while leaving behind the good HDL cholesterol. According to the Food & Drug Administration, consuming 23 grams, or 2 tablespoons, of olive oil a day helps maintain a healthy heart. Flavanoids are an antioxidant that works in reducing LDL levels by dilating blood vessels, thus reducing LDL oxidation.

Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is made from plants and plant products. Anything that contains vegetables or made with vegetables is healthier than the alternative. Plants make a product called phytosterols. Phytosterols are chemicals that block the intestines from absorbing cholesterol, which in turn lowers the levels of LDL in your blood. In researching vegetable oil and its affects on cholesterol, it has been found that using vegetable oil in your cooking reduces cholesterol levels in the blood.

Although vegetable oil has positive aspects, it should be taken in moderation. You can use several different oils to cook with, such as olive oil, which is another good oil, and corn oil.

It is always best to talk to your doctor before embarking on a new diet plan, especially if you have already encountered problems with your cholesterol. Creating a special diet is sometimes necessary to lower cholesterol levels, and your doctor may have a special diet for you to follow that will help you reach this goal. Your doctor will decide how much vegetable oil you should incorporate into your diet and how much will benefit you.


Nuts contain polyunsaturated fatty acids that can lower LDL levels. Consuming a handful of nuts each day can help to prevent coronary heart disease, according to the FDA. But eat wisely, as nuts are extremely high in calories.

Almonds, walnuts, olive oil and flaxseed oil provide cholesterol lowering benefits as well. The calorie content in these foods comes almost exclusively from fat, so be careful with serving sizes. Read the labels to learn serving sizes---they are typically less than many would think. Consuming too many calories can cause weight gain, which would negate positive health benefits of these foods. Exercising 30 minutes a day will decrease cholesterol levels. Combining a cholesterol-friendly diet with an exercise program can produce significant health benefits in just four weeks.

Plant Sterols & Stanols

Plant sterols and stanols have been found to prevent the absorption of cholesterol. Some orange juices and yogurts are fortified with these substances.


Garlic is believed to be a miracle herb for cardiovascular issues. In fact, garlic has been has been licensed in Germany as a treatment for atherosclerosis, the condition in which dangerous plaque builds up in the arteries. According to researchers at Iowa State University, both raw and cooked garlic contain compounds that help diminish the liver's production of cholesterol.

Artichoke Leaf

Though consumers typically think of artichokes as a side dish with dinner, ingesting artichoke leaf extract may help lower cholesterol levels. According to "Science Daily," researchers at the University of Reading, in England, have found that the extract from the globe artichoke plant can reduce cholesterol levels. The study was performed on healthy individuals of a normal weight, and the study notes that the extract may a lesser effect on overweight individuals or people with chronic health issues.


Guggul---also known as bedellium---is the resin from a flowering plant that grows most prevalently in northern India; it has long been used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. According to the University of Michigan Health System, one double-blind trial studying the effects of guggul reported that total cholesterol among participants dropped by 17.5 percent. However, the study found no evidence that guggul improved the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol in the body.


The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that preliminary studies suggest that ginger may lower cholesterol and help prevent the blood from clotting. Ginger may reduce the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides produced by the liver. This could be significant, as the liver produces more than 80 percent of the body's cholesterol.


Avoid saturated and trans fatty acids. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, like bacon grease. Saturated fats are found in all animal fats. However, a cholesterol lowering diet does not need to be vegetarian. Saturated fats should comprise less than 10 percent of a diet and total fats should consist of no more than 30 percent of any diet. Trans fatty acids are unsaturated oils with added hydrogen. Even small amounts of trans fatty acids significantly lower "good" cholesterol while raising "bad" cholesterol levels. They also increase the risk of diabetes.

Avoid frying or cooking in oils. Grill, bake or roast food to reduce the intake of unnecessary fats. Drink low-fat milk and avoid eating more than three eggs per week. Individuals with high cholesterol should also avoid smoking. Smoking increases the risk of high cholesterol. Join a smoking cessation program or seek medical advise to kick the habit.

Cholesterol Reducing Diets

There are many diets that can lower one's cholesterol simply because the foods associated with the diet are lower in fat and calories than what the individual may otherwise consume. To lower cholesterol, you should make everyday changes that can affect the amount of fat and salt in your food. Trimming fats off of meats is a good start as is substituting turkey or tofu for red meat. Using vegetable oils and sprays instead of butter on vegetables also limits your fat intake, as does avoiding foods that are creamed, fried or scalloped. Try to substitute whole wheat options, such as bread and pasta, for their white counterparts, which contain empty calories.

Limit Fats

The cornerstone of nearly any diet that is supposed to lower cholesterol is eating low-fat foods. One's total fat intake should comprise no more than 30 percent of one's daily calories. Saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats should each be limited to 10 percent of one's daily calories.


Individuals with high cholesterol should consume proteins through a variety of legumes, including pinto beans, lima beans, kidney beans and navy beans. While legumes are not complete proteins, complete proteins can be formed by mixing legumes with high-fiber foods. Animal meats contain complete proteins. Lean meats, such as skinless chicken and turkey, can be consumed in moderation when trying to lower cholesterol. Fish is also highly recommended.

High-Fiber Foods

Foods high in fiber have been found to lower cholesterol levels. Oatmeal, barley and whole grain products lower total cholesterol levels because fiber decreases the body's absorption of cholesterol. Apples, pears and prunes contain high amounts of fiber as well (the actual fruits, not fruit juices). Eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes healthy oils and fats over unhealthy foods that are full of saturated fat and triglycerides. The Mediterranean Diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, legumes and small portions of red meat. It also contains olive oil, canola oil, red wine and nuts.

Limit Sodium

Individuals should limit their sodium intake to no more than 2,400 mg. a day. A low-sodium diet emphasizes the use of spices, seasonings and herbs in place of salt to compensate for any flavor lost by removing the salt. It also emphasizes low-sodium versions of everyday foods such as chili and soup.

Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids contain good cholesterol and little to no bad cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglyceride levels as well as help prevent heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many types of fish, including salmon, sardines, shrimp, clams and oysters. To receive the health benefits of fish oils, fish should be baked or grilled. Individuals who do not like to eat fish can supplement with fish oils.

Low Carb Affect

Dieting on foods low in carbohydrates (carb) reduces cholesterol. Eating less sugar and starch-based foods lowers the production of glucose. Serving as the main source of energy to the liver, brain and outer muscles including the heart, glucose produces insulin. Without glucose production resulting from low-carb diets, the body eventually has to change to a different source of energy.

Natural Foods

Foods that are high in fiber, such as bran, whole wheat pastas and breads; dried, unsweetened fruits; nuts and seeds; and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and peas are emphasized in cholesterol-reducing diets because they are low in fat and keep people satiated for up to 4 hours. Soy is also a great addition because it can act as a substitute for red meat, as can black beans. Squashes and melons are also low in fat and high in water content, and can provide color, texture and flavor to many meals.

A combination of diet, life style and genetics causes high cholesterol. Some conditions like diabetes increase your risk for high cholesterol. Although you cannot alter genetic factors, changes in diet and lifestyle dramatically alter cholesterol levels for most individuals. Some however may require medication to maintain healthy levels because the liver actually manufactures cholesterol making it possible to have high cholesterol even when fats are severely restricted.

What Vitamins Reduce Cholesterol?

Among the vitamins that are reportedly best able to assist in the reduction of cholesterol levels are the various B vitamins. From among these, niacin (B-3), folic acid (B-9) and B-12 seem to be the most effective while providing some benefit to the cardiovascular system. Vitamin C, although it doesn't actually lower the amount of the fatty substance in and of itself, promotes the presence of HDLs, which some research has shown accomplishes a reduction of the more dangerous cholesterol that causes so many problems. Vitamin E assists by keeping LDLs from going rancid and thus clogging arteries.

Two other natural substances that are often considered effective in reducing LDL cholesterol levels are garlic and ginger root. Recent studies, however, have left some doubt in the minds of researchers as to whether garlic is as effective in this regard as previous laboratory studies seemed to indicate. Ginger, on the other hand, appears to be effective, but the reasons why are not completely understood.

The most important thing that you should remember is that plants do not contain cholesterol. Therefore, the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes cannot raise the amount of low-density lipoproteins in the body. The very vitamins that can aid in lowering LDLs are readily found in plant food with the exception of B-12, which you might want to supplement. Switching to a healthy, more plant-based diet is the key. Of course, good vitamin supplements taken with a meal can be helpful, but they should only be considered as an aid; vitamins work best when combined with whole foods.

Exercise lowers cholesterol and is often one of the first lines of defense against high levels of cholesterol. Maintaining a regular schedule of exercise assists other measures in controlling cholesterol levels. Diet, the main source of cholesterol, must be changed to eliminate high sources of cholesterol found in fatty foods. Consuming lean meats (in moderation), poultry, fish and plenty of grains and vegetables works to reduce cholesterol levels.

A study at Oregon State University found that men who were stressed and hostile had higher "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. This was especially true for men who had poor skills for coping with stress. Those with better stress reduction skills had higher levels of "good" HDL cholesterol. Stress reduction has other heart-healthy benefits, too, such as lowering blood pressure.

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