Foods to Eat That Lower Your Cholesterol

Posted on October 14, 2021

Foods to Eat That Lower Your Cholesterol

What is Cholesterol?

According to the NHS website, ‘Cholesterol is a fatty substance that blocks your arteries and restricts blood flow to your heart and brain.’[1] There are 2 main types of cholesterol you will see referred to: LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins) and HDL (High Density Lipoproteins). A lipoprotein is a combination of fat and protein, and the levels of each determine what type of lipoprotein they are.

LDL is what is commonly referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’, these lipoproteins contain a high level of cholesterol (or fat) and their job is to transport this cholesterol to the cells in the body that need it. If there is too much LDL in your blood, it can then build up in the arteries and cause blockages. This in turn reduces blood flow to the major organs and cells.

HDL is therefore what is commonly known as ‘good cholesterol’. It is also a lipoprotein, but it contains higher levels of protein rather than fat. Their job is to carry cholesterol away from cells and back to the liver, where it is then broken down and removed from the body.

Essentially, you can consider these two lipoproteins as different train lines: the LDL is the train bound for work and the HDL the homebound line. They coexist when cholesterol levels are normal and allow us to receive and dispose of cholesterol effectively. However, when cholesterol builds up in the arteries due to eating too many fatty foods, not getting enough exercise or being overweight, this balance is thrown off. There is too much cholesterol for HDL to manage and it starts to block the path of blood around the body, specifically to the heart and brain.

Like a large percentage of conditions, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle are paramount in its prevention and maintenance of good health. The foods that we eat and lifestyle we lead can directly impact the levels of cholesterol in our blood and can therefore be used to manage excess cholesterol.

Foods to Add to a Low Cholesterol Diet

When you are first told that your cholesterol levels are high, your reaction might be that you can no longer eat the foods that you enjoy anymore- instead having to resort to bland and boring meals. Yet, lower cholesterol foods are actually often more exciting than highly processed and high cholesterol foods such as pre-packaged snack foods and processed meats.

‘Processed food consumption, such as eating ready meals, biscuits and salami, in the UK is five times higher than in Portugal and nearly four times greater than in France, Greece or Italy[2]’ Which increases our risk of developing heart conditions and high cholesterol.

Why not use the opportunity to explore new ingredients and cuisines that you would otherwise wouldn’t try and start to have fun with the dishes that you’re cooking?

With that in mind, here’s the top 5 foods to add to your diet if you have high cholesterol levels:

  1. Nuts

Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, are a great source of fibre, unsaturated fat (good fats) and protein. Some studies also show that they have cholesterol lowering abilities.[3] Eating a handful of nuts a day may lower your cholesterol levels, and provide your heart with other beneficial micronutrients needed for its proper function.

  1. Oats

Oats are high in a type of fibre called beta-glucan, which is scientifically proven to lower your blood cholesterol levels. When in the gut, beta-glucan forms a gel-like substance which binds to cholesterol-rich bile acids, limiting their ability to be absorbed by the intestines and forcing the liver to take cholesterol from the blood instead.

Look for oats and grains that contain at least 3g of oat beta-glucan, as this is the amount proven to be effective against cholesterol.

  1. Soy

Foods that are soy-based, such as tofu, soy milk and edamame, are great replacements for otherwise fatty and cholesterol rich foods such as cow’s milk and fatty meats.

Although there is no evidence for soy products lowering cholesterol levels, using them as a replacement for ingredients that would otherwise raise your cholesterol levels is a great way to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.  They are a great source of protein and are low in saturated fats.

  1. Mackerel

Oily fish, such as mackerel, are high in Omega 3 fatty acids. Research suggests that these fatty acids can lower triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood, ‘reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of developing blood clots.’[4] All of which are important for people who have high cholesterol levels.

Vegan sources of Omega 3 are also available, the best being Flaxseed Oil.

  1. Vegetable Oil

It may seem strange to recommend oil as part of a diet that is meant to lower cholesterol levels. However, switching out butter and saturated fats for vegetable oil and spreads that are high in unsaturated fats is actually a great way to lower your cholesterol levels.

Saturated fats change the way that the body manages cholesterol levels and is thought to raise them further so should be avoided in your diet if you already have high cholesterol levels.[5]