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Cholesterol-Lowering Foods For Your Heart: Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs

Written by Rama Manikumar on Sun, 11 December 2022 — Fact checked by Dr. Lynda Odoh - Anikwe

Key Highlights

  • Cholesterol is not all scary—there’s good cholesterol and bad cholesterol — and it’s an essential part of our biological makeup.
  • Too much of cholesterol in the body can lead to plaque build-up in the arteries and poor blood supply to the heart.
  • The bad cholesterol in the body is increased by foods high in saturated fats and also by processed foods and industrial meats, alcohol, and commercial beverages.
  • The good cholesterol in the body is aided by plant foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and nuts.
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Cholesterol gets a lot of bad press these days, but in fact, we all need some of it. We just don’t need a lot of it. This is because, high cholesterol, especially a particular type of blood cholesterol, can lead to clogged arteries and a weakened heart, and even a stroke.

Once cholesterol symptoms are detected through a blood test, it’s vital to eat foods to reduce cholesterol levels and, if necessary, seek high cholesterol treatment.

In fact, it’s advisable to prevent cholesterol levels from rising in the first place by increasing the mix of unsaturated fats and soluble fiber in the diet and cutting cholesterol in meat.

There are plenty of tasty cholesterol-lowering foods that prevent blood cholesterol levels from increasing. There are also fruits for high cholesterol and vegetables for high cholesterol — all rich in plant fiber — that can bring down cholesterol levels, if they’ve already risen.

Understanding cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that’s an important constituent of cell membranes. The vast majority of cholesterol in the body is made in the liver, while the rest is absorbed from the diet. Cholesterol is the basic raw material that your body uses to make Vitamin D; sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone; and the bile acids needed for digestion.

Cholesterol travels in particles called lipoproteins, the most common of which are high-density lipoproteins (HDL) aka ‘good’ cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) aka ‘bad’ cholesterol.

  • HDL, the ‘good’ cholesterol: HDL is considered ‘good’ cholesterol because it helps remove the ‘bad’ cholesterol, LDL, thereby regulating the total cholesterol in the body. Maintaining a healthy weight, physical activity, and a diet that includes healthy unsaturated fats like those found in olive oil are believed to keep HDL levels high.
  • LDL, the ‘bad’ cholesterol: LDL is ‘bad’ cholesterol because it can build up in the arteries, impeding blood flow. Its levels should be kept low. Too much saturated fat in the diet, inactivity, and being overweight are considered to raise LDL levels. Recent scientific findings suggest the need to measure the number of actual lipoprotein particles, and the amount of the potentially dangerous Lp(a) or lipoprotein(a).

Types of Cholesterol

Ideal range of cholesterol

Your doctor can calculate your risk of a heart attack over the next 10 years, based on your sex, age, blood pressure, cholesterol balance, and whether or not you smoke or have diabetes. Food sources of cholesterol are also taken into account.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Desirable cholesterol level: below 200mg/dL
  • Borderline cholesterol level: 200-239mg/dL
  • High cholesterol level: 240+mg/dL

Dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol

The Harvard T.N. Chan School of Public Health says that for most people, the amount of dietary cholesterol has only a modest impact on the amount of blood cholesterol.

For some people, though, blood cholesterol levels rise and fall very strongly in relation to the amount of dietary cholesterol.

For these ‘responders’, avoiding cholesterol-rich foods can have a substantial effect on lowering blood cholesterol levels. The types of fat in the diet help determine the amount of total, HDL, and LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. The types and amount of carbohydrate in the diet also play a role.

What foods lower cholesterol and are beneficial to your heart?

You should aim to eat foods that are low in saturated fats and incorporate lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains into your diet to get more unsaturated fats.

A Mediterranean diet, which includes all of these, plus fish containing Omega-3 fatty acids, is ideal to prevent cholesterol build-up. Even dark chocolate, meaning 70% pure cocoa, can help lower cholesterol.

12 foods that lower cholesterol for good heart health

lower cholesterol for good heart health

Nuts

  • Nuts like almonds or walnuts are fantastic.
  • Research shows that the substances in almond skins help to prevent ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol from being oxidized; this process can otherwise damage the lining of blood vessels and increase cardiovascular risk.
  • Walnuts are one of the best plant sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Dark chocolate

  • A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association says that one-third cup of almonds a day, combined with one-fourth cup of dark chocolate and two daily servings of one-third tablespoon of cocoa can reduce LDL.
  • This is because of bioactive compounds called cocoa flavanols working efficiently with almonds.

Avocados

  • These very heart-healthy fruits contain monounsaturated fats, which have been found to lower ‘bad’ LDLs and raise ‘good’ HDLs, especially in people with mildly elevated cholesterol.

Blueberries

  • They are high in antioxidants and help to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level.

Oats

  • Eating oats every day can lower cholesterol, as the high level of soluble fiber stops the body from absorbing fats.
  • To make it more interesting, try making the oats into flapjacks or add a tasty topping.

Fruits and vegetables

  • These are full of vitamins and antioxidants and are at the top of the food pyramid.
  • These natural foods cleanse the body and are healthy because they don’t contain any fats.
  • Citrus fruits abundant in Vitamin C are particularly good.

Yogurt

  • This dairy item is low in fat and helps in digestion of food by regulating the stomach acids.
  • It also helps in the reduction of cholesterol levels.

Barley and other whole grains

  • Like oats and oat bran, barley and other whole grains can help lower the risk of heart disease, mainly via the soluble fiber they deliver.

Beans

  • Beans are especially rich in soluble fiber. They take time to be digested, so you feel full longer.
  • Try navy and kidney beans, lentils, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, and more.

Vegetable Oils

  • Cooking with vegetable oils like canola, sunflower and safflower in place of butter, lard, or shortening helps lower LDL.

Soy

  • According to Harvard Health Publishing, eating soybeans and foods made from them, like tofu and soy milk, was once seen as a powerful way to lower cholesterol.
  • Analysis show that the effect is more modest, but it still works — consuming 25gm of soy protein a day (10 ounces of tofu or 2.5 cups of soy milk) can lower LDL by 5-6%.

Best vegetables to lower cholesterol

The Cleveland Clinic advises filling your plate with non-starchy vegetables like:

Asparagus, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Tomato, Peppers, Celery, Carrot, Sweet potato, Okra, Leafy greens, and onions, as they’re low in calories, high in fiber, and contain protein.

Increasing the amount of non-starchy vegetables and decreasing the amount of starches (like rice, potato, pasta, and bread) can also help lower triglycerides (blood fats similar to cholesterol).

The Heart UK has the following veggie recommendations in a day:

  • 3 tablespoons of vegetables like sweet potato, broccoli, or okra
  • 3 tablespoons of beans, peas or lentils, for example chickpeas, kidney beans, garden peas and red lentils
  • 2-3 cauliflower or broccoli florets
  • Half a large vegetable, such as courgette, pepper, or aubergine
  • A medium-sized vegetable like turnip, parsnip, sweet potato, leek, tomato, or carrot

Best fruits to lower cholesterol

Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and pomegranate are high in soluble fiber and low in sugar. Apples, bananas, and pears provide soluble fiber, too.

Fruit can be an excellent addition to oatmeal, a salad, or a snack by itself.

Heart UK recommends a daily intake of:

  • A medium-sized fruit, for example, an apple, orange, or a banana
  • 2 small fruits, such as plums or satsumas
  • A handful of berries or grapes, and other small fruits like strawberries and prunes
  • A good-sized slice of a larger fruit, such as a melon, mango, or pineapple
  • A tablespoon of dried fruit
  • A 150ml glass of fruit juice

Low-cholesterol snacks

Low-cholesterol snacks include foods that are high in soluble fiber, which actually binds with cholesterol and helps your body flush it out. Snacks made with fruits and vegetables help your body block cholesterol from being absorbed.

  • Snack 1: Guacamole with baby carrots: The healthy fats in avocados lower bad cholesterol levels and satisfy your snack craving. One serving of homemade guacamole (the avocado-based dip) packs 90 calories, 8gm of plant-based fat, and zero cholesterol. Scoop it up with baby carrots.
  • Snack 2: Blueberry smoothie with almond milk: Blend some frozen blueberries, sliced banana, and almond milk in the blender for a creamy treat. Almond milk contains healthy fats and blueberries contain a powerful compound called pterostilbene, which turns on a switch in cells that breaks down fat and cholesterol.
  • Snack 3: Hummus with celery sticks: Hummus is a great source of heart-healthy fats from olive oil. Made from chickpeas that are full of fiber, it can help to lower your cholesterol while providing a boost of protein and healthy fats.

Best herbs to lower cholesterol

The following herbs, says the ancient Indian science of Ayurveda, can lower bad cholesterol:

  • Alfalfa: Alfalfa is effective in clearing arteries congested with cholesterol.
  • Arjuna: This herb accelerates the turnover of LDL in the liver, so that the bad cholesterol is not oxidized in your blood vessels to form plaque. Arjuna also elevates HDL, the good cholesterol.
  • Coriander: Coriander is a very good diuretic. It makes the kidneys perform their functions of excretion better and helps flush out the excess cholesterol.
  • Guggulu: It contains guggulsterones, which have been proven to reduce the levels of cholesterol on regular use.
  • Garlic: Garlic has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels even in apparently healthy individuals. Eating 2-3 cloves of garlic a day helps to reduce or even completely eliminate the harmful cholesterol.
  • Tulsi: Tulsi (or basil) can dissolve the accumulated cholesterol from the arteries into the person’s bloodstream, from where they are eliminated by the kidneys.

Conclusion

There’s no reason to fear the word ‘cholesterol’ as such, but you have to know how to regulate it in the body — eating right and exercising are two simplest ways of getting the job done.

Some foods can heighten your risk of accumulating LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and some foods can improve your heart health by elevating the level of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol.

So, it is important to be aware of cholesterol-lowering foods, and consciously include them in your everyday diet for better heart health.

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Rama Manikumar

Rama is a nutritionist and a lifestyle consultant. Having worked in the health industry for more than 20 years, her expertise in health and well-being brings a fresh and healthy approach to everyday habits- food and lifestyle. She walks the talk and delivers excellent quality nutrition, and helps develop habits that peak health & Well- being. Rama Holds a Batchelor’s degree in Biology; Extended/Specialized degree in Nutrition & Dietetics (Pennsylvania State Univ. USA).

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