There are many foods that can help lower our cholesterol, but there are four foods that, in particular, have really strong cholesterol-lowering capabilities, and if you’re not adding them in, you are missing out on a lot of potential! So, in today’s article, I’m going to reveal what the four best cholesterol lowering foods are and some practical ways to add them.
As a dietitian, I have helped hundreds of clients improve their health by lowering their cholesterol. And one of my key strategies for doing this is by adding in these four ultimate cholesterol lowering foods.
I like to take an additive approach when it comes to nutrition, focusing on what we can eat more of, not what we need to avoid. You don’t have to add all the recommended cholesterol-lowering foods to your diet at once. Start with one or two, and gradually increase as you go. It’s best to adopt them one at a time and build them up slowly.
This post is all about the best cholesterol lowering foods.
If you would prefer to sit back, watch and listen to this information, you can view it all over on the YouTube channel!
- 1 Top Four Cholesterol-Lowering Foods
- 1.1 Food No. 1: Oats & Barley (Beta-glucans)
- 1.2 Food No. 2: Soy Products Can Help Lower Cholesterol
- 1.3 Food No. 3: Nuts
- 1.4 Food No. 4: Plant Stanols & Sterols
- 2 SUMMARY:
Top Four Cholesterol-Lowering Foods
Food No. 1: Oats & Barley (Beta-glucans)
So, the first ultimate cholesterol-lowering food or foods, in this case, is oats and barley.
Now, any food that contains fibre is great at lowering cholesterol, but oats and barley contain a special fibre known as beta-glucans. And beta-glucans are particularly good at lowering cholesterol. Beta-glucans work by forming a gel in the gut, which can bind with cholesterol-rich bile acids and stop them from being absorbed into the body. They are a sticky fibre that acts like a magnet or a mop. It grabs onto cholesterol in your small and large intestines, sweeping it all the way through your digestive tract and taking it out with your stool. In essence, you poo out the extra cholesterol.
Beta-glucans are also found in other grains – but in much smaller amounts. Oats and barley are fantastic sources.
How much do I need to eat each day?
3g is the optimum daily amount of beta-glucans to help lower cholesterol, which you can achieve with three servings of any of the foods below in any combination.
Choose any combination of three from the list below:
- A small bowl of porridge (using 30g of porridge oats)
- 13g (1-2 tablespoons) of oat bran – sprinkled onto cereals or added to casseroles, soups or smoothies
- 250ml of an oat drink (containing at least 1g of beta-glucan per serving)
- One oat breakfast biscuit
- One serving of oat breakfast cereal flakes (30-35g)
- Three oatcakes
- Recipes providing at least 30g of oats per serving that are also low in saturated fat
- 75g cooked pearl barley – you can add these to stews, casseroles, salads or use them instead of rice to make a risotto
- 40g of barley flakes
For example, this could look like:
- Two oat biscuits for breakfast plus three oatcakes for lunch
- a bowl of porridge for breakfast plus 75g cooked pearl barley in a stew plus three oat cakes as a snack
- Consider having a bowl of porridge, overnight oats or oaty pancakes for breakfast. Check out my article on how to make overnight oats.
- Make my easy cholesterol-lowering oat bread and use it for sandwiches and snacks.
- Add barley to stews, soups and casseroles.
Food No. 2: Soy Products Can Help Lower Cholesterol
The next ultimate cholesterol-lowering food is soy. Soya foods are derived from soya beans and can be consumed as edamame or soy nuts. They are also commonly used as a plant-based alternative to dairy milk, such as soya milk and soya yoghurts, and they are frequently used as dessert items like soya custards. Soy is also used to make tofu, which is commonly used to make plant-based burgers or mince. Finally, soya-based products can be fermented to produce tempeh and miso. So, there are a lot of soy-based foods out there!
Unfortunately, there have been many myths surrounding soy foods in recent years, which has resulted in many people being wary of them.
So, before explaining how soy can help with cholesterol, let’s clear up misconceptions about soy-based foods.
Will soy give you man boobs?
Men need not worry about the impact of soya on testosterone levels. A meta-analysis published in recent years that included 41 human studies and over 1,750 men showed no effect on testosterone or oestrogen levels.
Is soy safe for women at risk of developing or with breast cancer?
Yes, the safety of soya with regard to women’s breast cancer risk, breast cancer sufferers and risk of recurrence is supported by leading global cancer organisations (the American Institute of Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, and the World Cancer Research Fund).
In fact, several population studies suggest that the consumption of soy does not raise the risk of breast cancer, and some studies even indicate a slight reduction of 10-20%. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that starting to consume soy during adolescence and continuing to consume it during adulthood has a more significant effect in reducing the risk of breast cancer.
And on the topic of women’s health, soy can help during menopause.
Soya can help with hot flushes, in menopausal women. The evidence indicates that consuming around two servings of soya foods and/or drinks as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle has been associated with reduced frequency and severity of hot flushes.
So, how does soy help with heart health?
Soya is different to other beans and pulses. They have a much lower carbohydrate content, are higher in protein content & quality and are significantly higher in healthy fats – mainly polyunsaturated fat.
Foods made from soya beans tend to be low in saturated fat and using soya foods in place of other high saturated fat foods can help you to maintain a healthy cholesterol level. Soya isoflavones have also been associated with improved flexibility of blood vessels (arteries), helping maintain blood flow, which is important for heart health. We want all the blood and oxygen flowing to your heart and brain so you don’t get a heart attack or stroke!
Food labelling authorities in the UK, USA, Canada and Japan have approved statements that including ’25g of soya protein per day can help reduce blood cholesterol levels’. And studies show that it can lower LDL cholesterol by about 3-4%.
How much do I need to eat each day?
Thankfully, now there is a greater choice of soya foods than ever before that can also taste great. It’s best to start with one to two servings a day and gradually build up to 3 of any combination of the food and drinks listed below.
- 100g marinated tofu pieces (great in salads, stir-fries or with a dip). You can buy these pre-prepared, e.g., Cauldron marinated tofu pieces.
- 100g firm tofu.
- 100g soya mince – use instead of minced meat in recipes. It makes a great spag bol or chilli con carne,
- 80g edamame beans – fresh or frozen. Great as a side vegetable, in salads, or blended with some soya alternative to yoghurt for a great dip
- A handful (35g) soya nuts. These are not true nuts. They are roasted soya beans. They work great as a snack or in salads.
- A large glass (250ml) soya alternative to milk (calcium fortified), use on your cereals, in cooking in place of dairy, and in teas and coffees
- 150g Soya alternative to yoghurt, plain or Greek-style
- 150g individual pot of fruit Greek-style plain soya alternative to yoghurt
- 125g individual pot of soy pudding
For many people, beginning to consume more tofu is a challenge as it can be a food many of us are not familiar with. And if we don’t know how to use it correctly, it can be quite soggy and bland. Some of my top tips are:
- Look out for frozen edamame. These are already shelled and ready to eat once defrosted, making life much easier.
- Firm or extra-firm regular tofu is best used in stir-fries, making baked tofu or any dish where you want it to retain its shape. Remember to press the tofu beforehand to remove even more liquid.
- Tofu in the air-fryer is amazing! I have a recipe here, and it is a very cheap protein source.
- Soy can also be a great source of calcium if that is a nutrient you are trying to consume more of. Just look at the ingredient list and ensure the firming agent is “calcium carbonate”; not all of them are.
- Finally, if you are on thyroid medication, soy can make it harder for the body to absorb that medicine. Now, you don’t need to avoid soy; just make sure to leave a 2-hour gap between soy consumption and your medication and avoid soy supplements.
Food No. 3: Nuts
The third ultimate cholesterol-lowering food is nuts. Nuts are packed full of heart-healthy nutrients such as protein, fibre, plant sterols, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper.
Because they are also naturally rich in unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fat, they can help lower cholesterol as part of a healthy diet.
There are lots of different nuts to choose from, including almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, cashews and peanuts.
- Adding a small handful (30g) of unsalted nuts like almonds, pecans, walnuts or peanuts into your daily diet can lower your cholesterol by 3-5%.
In fact, a large meta-analysis found that the protective effect of nuts against the development of heart disease was found to be dose-dependent, such that risk decreased by 5 % for every additional serving of nuts consumed per week.
The benefits were clear enough for the FDA in 2003 to issue a “qualified health claim” for peanuts and certain tree nuts – almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts. The claim allows some nuts and foods made with them to carry this claim: “Eating a diet that includes one ounce of nuts daily can reduce your risk of heart disease.”
Some people avoid eating nuts as they are concerned about the high-calorie content and potential weight gain. However, research suggests that consuming nuts daily can help manage weight and provide other health benefits.
Nuts contain high amounts of fibre, and their structure makes it difficult for the body to absorb all the calories they contain. For instance, one serving (1oz or 28g) of almonds has 170kcal (according to the package), but only about 129 calories are absorbed by the body.
How Much Do I Need To Eat Each Day?
A handful of nuts (28-30g) is about the optimum amount each day. Choose unsalted nuts and, if possible, opt for nuts with their skins still intact, as these contain additional nutrients.
TOP TIPS For Adding More Nuts Into Your Diet
- Use nuts as a topping for porridge, overnight oats, salads, soups and casseroles.
- Try peanut butter or almond butter on toast or apple slices.
- Have a handful of plain, unsalted nuts as a snack. Choose mixed nuts so that you get a variety, or rotate the types of nuts you buy.
- Add chopped nuts into home baking, such as in granola, muffins, banana bread or energy balls.
- Add nuts and seeds to a stir-fry or pasta dish. Cashews, peanuts and sesame seeds work well in stir-fries, and pine nuts and walnuts work well in pasta dishes.
- Add a handful of nuts, seeds or a tablespoon of peanut butter to smoothies,
Food No. 4: Plant Stanols & Sterols
My final cholesterol-lowering food is plant stanols & sterols.
What are Plant Stanols & Sterols?
Plant sterols and stanols are substances that are found naturally in plants that have a chemical structure similar to that of cholesterol. Nutritional scientists have found that if they are taken in LARGE quantities, they are clinically proven to lower cholesterol. But they are only found naturally in plants in small quantities.
So, food companies have taken other foods such as yoghurt drinks, spreads and milk and have added big doses of these sterols and stanols, and they can sell them as “clinically proven to lower cholesterol.” Because they are there is a lot of research behind them.
Therefore it’s no surprise then that guidelines in Europe and internationally recommend people with high blood cholesterol include plant stanols as part of an overall eating plan that will help to reduce cholesterol.
Although they are present naturally in foods, to get the therapeutic dose, you really do need to take a fortified product. For context you would need to eat 7500g of broccoli to come to close to the same amount of plant stanols in one yoghurt drink. And 30 buckets of broccoli every day for three weeks might be a challenge!
How do they work?
They have the ability to partially block cholesterol (both cholesterol produced by the body and the cholesterol found in food) from being absorbed into the bloodstream from the gut. Normally, about 50% of cholesterol is absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream, but when plant stanols are taken, it drops to just 20%.
How much do I need to eat each day?
You need to eat 1.5-3g of plant sterol or stanols daily, as part of a low saturated fat diet, to lower your cholesterol. Always check the labels to see how much is provided in one serving (product recipes change often). Current products will provide anything from 0.54g to 2g sterols or stanols per serving. It is also clear from the evidence that as the quantity increases up to 3g each day, the benefit increases; however, there is little additional benefit from eating more than 3g each day.
It’s not advised to exceed 3g of plant sterols or sterols in one day. More than this will not lower your cholesterol any further, and these products can be expensive.
In people with high blood cholesterol, a daily intake of 1.5-2.4g of plant stanols lowers LDL cholesterol by an average of 7-10% within two to three weeks. You need to have these amounts every day for two to three weeks to see the benefit to cholesterol levels and continuous use in order to collect a benefit to health.
Now, what I will say is:
The cholesterol-lowering effect of these plant stanols can vary from person to person. They can make a very big impact on some people’s cholesterol levels and have a minimal impact on others. As these products can be expensive, it might be a good idea to check your cholesterol levels before starting to use them. For the next three weeks, take these products at the recommended dose while making minimal other changes to your diet and medication (if appropriate). After three weeks, check your cholesterol levels again. If there is no significant change, it’s likely that these products are not effective for you, and it may not be worth continuing to use them. In this case, you can save your money and try other options instead.
How to eat these foods?
Eat these foods as part of your biggest main meal because they work by mixing with the food you have eaten.
And there we have it: the four BEST cholesterol-lowering foods.
- Beta Glucans from oats and barley – cholesterol lowering effect of 5-10%.
- Soy Foods – cholesterol-lowering effect of 3-4%
- Nuts – cholesterol-lowering effect of 3-5%
- Plant stanols – cholesterol-lowering effect of 7~10%
Add that all up, and you could potentially lower your cholesterol by 29%!
Now, if you want to dive deeper, I recommend reading my article on the best and worst supplements to lower your cholesterol.
This post was all about the best cholesterol lowering foods.
Hi there! My name is Maria, and I am a Registered Dietitian practising in Ireland and Bermuda. I have extensive experience in helping clients improve their health through the power of good nutrition. I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. Additionally, if there are nutrition topics or recipes you would like me to make in future posts, please let me know. I would be more than happy to help.
Stay happy and healthy!
Your Registered Dietitian
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