Cholesterol is a steroid lipid (fat) present in the blood, necessary for the proper functioning of cell membranes and the production of vitamin D and certain hormones.
High cholesterol levels are a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. (1) Cholesterol-lowering foods are therefore a great addition to anyone’s diet for optimal health and as a preventative measure.
Cholesterol-lowering foods include oat bran, flax seeds, garlic, almonds, walnuts, whole barley, and green tea. Below is a detailed list of foods which lower bad LDL cholesterol, while leaving the good HDL cholesterol largely unaffected.
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats
(Olive Oil, Canola Oil, Peanut Oil, Peanuts, Olives, Avocados)
Cholesterol Reduction: 18%
Substituting saturated animal fats with healthier fats like olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and avocados results in a drastic reduction in your LDL cholesterol. (2,3) Specifically, in one study, a diet high in olive and sunflower oil, that contains 12.9% saturated fat, 15.1% monounsaturated fat, and 7.9% polyunsaturated fat led to an 18% reduction in LDL cholesterol compared with people on a diet higher in saturated fat. (2)
Bran (Oat, Rice)
Cholesterol Reduction: 7-14%
Bran, particularly oat bran, has been proven effective in lowering LDL cholesterol levels. (4, 5) You can try adding bran to hot cereals and bread. Also, eating whole oatmeal every morning, and switching to whole-grain products such as brown rice is beneficial.
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%, (6) and 38 grams per day of flax seeds per day reduced LDL cholesterol by 14% in people with high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia). (7) In both studies, the flax seeds were consumed in a muffin or other bread product. Flax seeds are easily incorporated into baked goods, as well as added to hot cereals like oatmeal.
Cholesterol Reduction: 9-12%
Studies show that less than half a clove (900mg) of raw garlic a day can lower cholesterol by 9-12%. (8,9) Raw garlic is best and can be added to olive oil salad dressings, or as a garnish on soups and sandwiches.
Cholesterol Reduction: 7-10%
Several studies report that eating up to half a cup of almonds can reduce cholesterol levels by up to 10%. (10,11) In a dose-response study, it was found that a quarter cup of almonds reduces cholesterol by 5% and half a cup causes the full 10% reduction. (11) 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. It 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 (12,13) while other studies find no difference. (14) 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. (15,16,17) This is especially true when the fats from the nuts replace consumption of saturated fats. Consuming around 30 grams of walnuts is necessary to achieve the cholesterol-lowering benefits. (18)
Whole Grain Barley
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. (19) Barley can easily substitute for wheat in the form of barley noodles, barley flour, or whole pearl barley.
Cholesterol Reduction: 2-5%
The plant sterols and cocoa flavanols in dark (non-milk) chocolate reduce cholesterol by 2-5%. (20) 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%. (21) 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%. (22) Green tea without sugar also has few calories (typically less than 10) and can make a great substitute for a variety of beverages.
More Lifestyle Choices to Lower Cholesterol
Take Niacin (Vitamin B3) Supplements – Niacin has been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise the level of HDL (good) cholesterol. (23) The degree to which it lowers LDL cholesterol has not been measured, but one study reports a 20% increase in HDL (good) cholesterol. (24) There are no studies on the effect of high niacin foods as compared to the supplement. However, it is commonly construed that eating high niacin foods will help lower bad LDL levels while raising good HDL levels.
Exercise – Studies suggest that regular aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, running) can increase levels of good (HDL) cholesterol. High HDL cholesterol protects your cardiovascular system. Exercise especially helps people with low levels of HDL cholesterol. (25,26) Further, exercise can enhance the effect of a cholesterol-lowering diet, reducing levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol. (27)
Lose Weight – Losing weight, particularly belly fat, will help lower LDL cholesterol levels, and will certainly help prevent type II diabetes, a big risk factor for cardiovascular disease. (28,29) Check your Body Mass Index (BMI) and aim for a BMI between 20-22.
Become Vegan – Being vegan involves eating only plant foods and avoiding all animal foods such as dairy, meats, seafoods, etc…Veganism has been shown to lower cholesterol numbers as well as triglyceride levels. (30) This is especially true for vegan diets that do not contain refined sugars, processed foods, or trans-fats, and consist mostly of high fiber foods like beans, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Reduce Stress – Studies show that mental, emotional, or psychological stress can increase cholesterol levels by 10%.(30,31,32) One study, in particular, found that college students have high cholesterol levels before tests than other times in the semester. (32) Another study found that performing a stressful mental activity, like math, increases cholesterol levels. (33) To reduce stress in your life try soothing herbal teas such as chamomile, yoga, meditation, or spending time with friends. Try new things till you find something that works for you.
Data Sources and References
- Ten-Year Mortality from Cardiovascular Disease in Relation to Cholesterol Level among Men with and without Preexisting Cardiovascular Disease
- Mensink RP, Katan MB. Effect of a diet enriched with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids on levels of low-density and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in healthy women and men. N Engl J Med. 1989 Aug 17;321(7):436-41.
- Penny M Kris-Etherton, Thomas A Pearson, Ying Wan, Rebecca L Hargrove, Kristin Moriarty, Valerie Fishell and Terry D Etherton. High-monounsaturated fatty acid diets lower both plasma cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 70, No. 6, 1009-1015, December 1999
- Oat-bran intake selectively lowers serum low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations of hypercholesterolemic men.
- Full-fat rice bran and oat bran similarly reduce hypercholesterolemia in humans.
- SC Cunnane, MJ Hamadeh, AC Liede, LU Thompson, TM Wolever and DJ Jenkins. Nutritional attributes of traditional flaxseed in healthy young adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 61, 62-68, 1995.
- Bahram H Arjmandi, Dilshad A Khan, Shanil Juma, Melinda L. Drum, Sreevidya Venkatesh, Eugenia Sohn, Lili Wei, and Richard Derman. Whole flaxseed consumption lowers serum LDL-cholesterol and lipoprotein(a) concentrations in postmenopausal women.
- AJ Adler and BJ Holub. Effect of garlic and fish-oil supplementation on serum lipid and lipoprotein concentrations in hypercholesterolemic men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 65, 445-450, 1997
- Stephen Warshafsky, Russell S. Kamer, Steven L. Sivak. Effect of Garlic on Total Serum Cholesterol A Meta Analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2004.
- Abbey M., Noakes M., Belling G.B., Nestel, P. Partial replacement of saturated fatty acids with almonds or walnuts lowers total plasma cholesterol and low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1994;59:995-9.
- Dose Response of Almonds on Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors: Blood Lipids, Oxidized Low-Density Lipoproteins, Lipoprotein(a), Homocysteine, and Pulmonary Nitric Oxide. The American Heart Association, 2002;106:1327.
- Karin Ried, Peter Fakler. Protective effect of lycopene on serum cholesterol and blood pressure: Meta-analyses of intervention trials. Volume 68, Issue 4 , Pages 299-310, April 2011
- Tomato juice decreases LDL cholesterol levels and increases LDL resistance to oxidation. British Journal of Nutrition (2007), 98: 1251-1258
- No Significant Effects of Lutein, Lycopene or Beta-Carotene Supplementation on Biological Markers of Oxidative Stress and LDL Oxidizability in Healthy Adult Subjects. J Am Coll Nutr June 2001 vol. 20 no. 3 232-238.
- Effects of walnuts on serum lipid levels and blood pressure in normal men. N Engl J Med. 1993 Mar 4;328(9):603-7.
- Effects of walnut consumption on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis and systematic review
- Effect of Pistachio Nuts on Serum Lipid Levels in Patients with Moderate Hypercholesterolemia. J Am Coll Nutr June 1999 vol. 18 no. 3 229-232
- Including Walnuts in a Low-Fat/Modified-Fat Diet Improves HDL Cholesterol-to-Total Cholesterol Ratios in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. doi: 10.2337/diacare.27.12.2777 Diabetes Care December 2004 vol. 27 no. 12 2777-2783
- Barley and wheat foods: influence on plasma cholesterol concentrations in hypercholesterolemic men. Am J Clin Nutr May 1991 vol. 53 no. 5 1205-1209.
- Daily Consumption of a Dark Chocolate Containing Flavanols and Added Sterol Esters Affects Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Normotensive Population with Elevated Cholesterol. American Society for Nutrition J. Nutr. 138:725-731, April 2008
- Unesterified plant sterols and stanols lower LDL-cholesterol concentrations equivalently in hypercholesterolemic persons. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 76, No. 6, 1272-1278, December 2002
- Green tea consumption and serum lipids and lipoproteins in a population of healthy workers in Japan. Ann Epidemiol. 2002 Apr;12(3):157-65.
- Pubmed Health Page on Niacin
- A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Extended-Release Niacin on Atherosclerosis Progression in Secondary Prevention Patients Treated With Statins. American Heart Association Journal. Circulation.2004; 110: 3512-3517 Published online before print November 10, 2004, doi: 10.1161/?01.CIR.0000148955.19792.8D.
- Exercise acutely increases high density lipoprotein-cholesterol and lipoprotein lipase activity in trained and untrained men. Metabolism Volume 36, Issue 2, February 1987, Pages 188-1922001; 21: 1226-1232
- Effects of Endurance Exercise Training on Plasma HDL Cholesterol Levels Depend on Levels of Triglycerides. American Heart Association Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.
- Effects of Diet and Exercise in Men and Postmenopausal Women with Low Levels of HDL Cholesterol and High Levels of LDL Cholesterol. N Engl J Med 1998; 339:12-20July 2, 1998.
- Cholesterol lowering effect of dietary weight loss and orlistat treatment–efficacy and limitations. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2004 Jun 1;19(11):1173-9.
- Weight loss improves lipoprotein lipid profiles in patients with hypercholesterolemia. J Lab Clin Med. 1985 Oct;106(4):447-54.
- Diet and serum lipids in vegan vegetarians: a model for risk reduction. J Am Diet Assoc. 1991 Apr;91(4):447-53.
- Relationship of Mental and Emotional Stress to Serum Cholesterol Levels. doi: 10.3181/00379727-97-23676 Exp Biol Med January 1958 vol. 97 no. 1 163-165
- Further studies on cholesterol levels in the Johns Hopkins medical students: The effect of stress at examinations. From the Department of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md. USA Received 5 September 1958. Available online 23 March 2004.
- Acute Cholesterol Responses to Mental Stress and Change in Posture. Arch Intern Med. 1992;152(4):775-780.
by Daisy Whitbread, BSc (Hons) MSc DipION April 21st, 2022
related ~ Top 10 Foods Highest in Cholesterol