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13 Foods that Help Lower Cholesterol

Learn the good and the bad behind this essential fat


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As we age, keeping an eye on our cholesterol becomes increasingly important in order to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. But not all cholesterol is harmful — the body actually needs it to build cells and produce essential vitamins. ​ ​But there’s a catch: Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. So, if your diet is high in saturated and trans fats — think butter and bacon — your cholesterol can creep up, putting your heart health at risk.​ ​However, just as there are foods that can raise your cholesterol, there are foods that can lower it. Read on to learn more about the different types of cholesterol and determine the best foods to eat to lower cholesterol, as well as those you should avoid.  ​ ​

What is cholesterol?

​ ​Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is essential for bodily functions. Your liver makes it, and it can also enter the body when you eat foods such as meat, fish, eggs and milk. ​ ​Scientists recognize two types: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as “good” cholesterol.​ ​Elevated LDL cholesterol levels can accumulate in our blood vessels, leading to the formation of plaque and increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. In contrast, higher levels of HDL cholesterol can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke by absorbing cholesterol in the blood and transporting it back to the liver, where it is processed out of the body.​​

Foods that lower LDL cholesterol

1. Raspberries

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​For all their candy-like sweetness, raspberries pack a mean health punch by knocking down LDL cholesterol levels and raising HDL levels. Researchers speculate that these favorable effects come from high levels of naturally occurring antioxidants called polyphenols — the compounds that give berries their bright color.​​​

Tip: When you choose raspberries, look for ones that are fully ripe. Unlike many other fruits, raspberries do not ripen after they are picked.​ 

2. Barley

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​This grain contains a powerful type of soluble fiber, beta-glucan, that helps keep cholesterol levels in check by effectively lowering LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL. It works by preventing the body’s absorption of cholesterol from food. Look for minimally processed pearled barley, the variety most commonly found in supermarkets.

Tip: Use this versatile grain as a substitute for rice; mix it with grilled corn and top with a vinaigrette dressing for a refreshing salad; or add it to creamed soups for a fiber boost.​ 

3. Avocados

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This silky-green fruit contains significant amounts of oleic acid, a healthy monounsaturated fat that helps boost good cholesterol and lower bad. Avocados are also rich in fiber and a plant chemical called beta-sitosterol, both of which help keep cholesterol in check.

Tip: Avocados significantly increase absorption of immunity-boosting antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables. Add a couple of slices of diced avocado to your next salad.​ 

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4. Lentils

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One reason to love lentils is their cholesterol-busting fiber. The soluble fiber in lentils forms a sticky substance that traps cholesterol and helps move it out of the body. Lentils and their kissing cousins, black-eyed peas, kidney, lima and navy beans, come by their reputation as heart protectors with good reason. ​​

Tip: Lentils sop up flavor like a sponge. Mix cooked lentils with some olive oil, balsamic or red wine vinegar, crushed garlic and parsley. Let stand for half an hour to meld the flavors, then spread on crackers.​​

5. Edamame

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These young green soybeans with a buttery sweet taste are a protein powerhouse, rich in soluble fiber and high in isoflavones, a plant compound that brings down total blood levels of cholesterol. To cook fresh edamame, boil in lightly salted water for 3 to 5 minutes, cool by plunging into ice water, then drain.

6. Nuts

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About 80 percent of calories in nuts come from fat, but it’s healthy unsaturated fat, not the artery-clogging kind. Nuts also are high in plant sterols, substances that block the absorption of cholesterol. Given these advantages, nuts are a natural for a heart-healthy diet. About an ounce and a half to two ounces a day should do it. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and pistachios all confer benefits. So do peanuts, although they’re technically a legume and not a nut. ​​

Tip: Put a bag of unsalted nuts in a convenient spot in the kitchen, so it’s easy to grab a handful as you head out the door.

7. Olive oil

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This liquid gold doesn’t just make food taste better. The unsaturated fats found in olive oil (and canola and walnut oils) have the added benefit of helping to cut LDL cholesterol levels without affecting HDL. Aim for about 2 tablespoons a day in place of other fats. ​​

Tip: To bump up its bad-cholesterol-lowering power, choose “extra-virgin” olive oil. This form is less processed and contains more heart-healthy antioxidants. 

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8. Pears

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They’re crisp, sweet and a great choice for your health. Pears are rich in fiber, mainly in the form of pectin, which helps lower LDL cholesterol by expelling it from the body before it is absorbed. Surprisingly, fresh pears contain even more pectin than apples. ​A medium-size pear provides 16 percent of the recommended daily value for fiber. Other pectin-rich fruits include apples, bananas, oranges and peaches. ​​

Tip: Don’t bother to peel pears. Their edible skin is an additional source of fiber. Simply wash before serving.​​

9. Green and black tea

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A cup of tea does more than soothe on a stressful day. Both green and black tea can help lower cholesterol levels. Green tea is prepared from unfermented leaves and black tea from fully fermented leaves of the same plant. Researchers believe that catechins, a type of antioxidant found in tea, are responsible for its cholesterol-lowering effect. The more fermented the tea leaves, the lower the catechin content and the higher the caffeine content. ​

Tip: Black tea has two to three times the caffeine of green tea. If your preferred black tea keeps you awake at night, look for the decaffeinated form. ​

10. Tomatoes

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Ask for tomato sauce with your pasta if you want to keep your cholesterol under control. Tomatoes are a significant source of a plant compound called lycopene, which reduces levels of LDL cholesterol. Research shows that the body absorbs more lycopene if the tomatoes are processed or cooked, so have a glass of tomato juice at lunch and add tomatoes to your minestrone soup as well.​ ​

Tip: You can also reap the benefits of their mildly sweet taste by roasting, grilling, broiling or steaming.​​

11. Apples

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​Apples are the most widely consumed fruit in the United States. Lucky for us, these crunchy crowd-pleasers provide benefits that help maintain our health. Apples (leave the peel on) help lower levels of a kind of “bad” cholesterol that triggers hardening of the arteries. Another plus for this favorite fruit: A long-standing Swedish study found that men and women who ate the most apples had a lower risk of stroke than those who ate the least. ​ ​

Tip: If the apples aren’t organic, soak them in a baking-soda/water bath for 15 minutes to rid them of pesticide residue.​​

12. Oranges and their relatives

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Oranges, mandarin oranges, tangerines and tangelos have more going for them than their cheery color. They’re all rich in pectin, a type of soluble fiber that lowers “bad” cholesterol. Several studies have shown that pectin reduces cholesterol levels anywhere from 5 to 19 percent, nearly the same as some cholesterol-lowering medications. ​ ​

Tip: The white, stringy stuff inside the peel of citrus fruits that holds the segments together is rich in substances that protect your cells and help keep your intestines healthy; don’t bother trying to pick them off.​ ​

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13. Oats

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A bowl of oatmeal for breakfast is a satisfying way to start the day. Oatmeal is rich in soluble fiber, which reduces LDL  cholesterol and is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Mix in a handful of raspberries and some unsalted nuts (toast them gently for more flavor) and you’re ready to face the day with a smile.​ ​

Tip: Steel-cut, rolled or quick-cooking oats are nutritionally equivalent. Instant oats, however, are often spiked with sugary flavorings and may raise blood sugar quickly; if you have diabetes, opt for one of the others.

Foods to Avoid to Lower Cholesterol

Foods high in saturated fat pose a double-whammy — they raise LDL cholesterol levels and promote weight gain , according to Harvard Health Publishing. So pass up these foods for the sake of healthy arteries and a svelte body:​ 

  • Deep-fried foods like onion rings, mozzarella sticks and chicken wings are among the worst when it comes to cholesterol. Frying increases the calorie count of foods.​ 
  • Hot dogs, sausages and bacon use the fattiest cuts of red meat.​
  • Commercial baked goods such as cookies, cakes and pastries are usually made with large quantities of butter and shortening.​​

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