Top 10 Cholesterol Lowering Foods

Photo of Daisy Whitbread Written by Daisy Whitbread
BSc (Hons) MSc DipION
Photo of Dr. Thomas Kutner Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Thomas Kutner
Evidence Based. References sourced from PubMed.
Top 10 Cholesterol Lowering Foods

Cholesterol is a steroid lipid (fat) present in the blood, necessary for the proper functioning of cell membranes, the production of vitamin D, and certain hormones.

High cholesterol levels are a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. (1,2) Cholesterol-lowering foods are therefore a great addition to anyone's diet for optimal health and as a preventative measure.

While foods can help to lower cholesterol, results often vary from person to person. In comparison, prescription statins lower cholesterol by 24-37%. (3) Depending on age and gender cholesterol can be lowered by 20% with changes in diet, exercise, and weight loss. (4) In one case study a 33 year old was able to lower their LDL cholesterol by 52% via lifestyle changes alone. (5) Lifestyle changes are also typically presented as a first-line treatment for high cholesterol. (4)

Cholesterol-lowering foods include oat bran, flax seeds, garlic, almonds, walnuts, whole barley, and green tea. Below is a detailed list of foods that lower bad LDL cholesterol, while leaving the good HDL cholesterol largely unaffected. Please note that while these foods can help lower cholesterol, they should still be consumed in moderation.

More Lifestyle Choices to Lower Cholesterol

  • 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. (26,27) Check your Body Mass Index (BMI) and aim for a BMI between 20-22.
  • Take Niacin (Vitamin B3) Supplements - Niacin has been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise the level of HDL (good) cholesterol. (28) The degree to which it lowers LDL cholesterol has not been measured, but one study reports a 20% increase in HDL (good) cholesterol for patients already on a statin and taking 1000mg slow-release niacin supplements. (29) There are no studies on the effect of high niacin foods as compared to the supplement.
  • 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. (30,31) Further, exercise can enhance the effect of a cholesterol-lowering diet, reducing levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol. (32)
  • Become Vegan - Being vegan involves eating only plant foods and avoiding all animal foods such as dairy, meats, seafood, etc...Veganism has been shown to lower cholesterol numbers as well as triglyceride levels. (33) 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.(34,35) Another study found that performing a stressful mental activity, like math, increases cholesterol levels. (36) To reduce stress in your life try soothing herbal teas such as chamomile, yoga, meditation, or spending time with friends. Also see the list of foods to relieve stress.

Data Sources and References

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  2. Abdullah SM, Defina LF, Leonard D, Barlow CE, Radford NB, Willis BL, Rohatgi A, McGuire DK, de Lemos JA, Grundy SM, Berry JD, Khera A. Serum Cholesterol Levels and Risk of Cardiovascular Death: A Systematic Review and a Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies Circulation. 2018 Nov 20;138(21):2315-2325. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.034273. 30571575
  3. Nissen SE. Statins and LDL-cholesterol lowering: an overview Am J Cardiol. 2005 Sep 5;96(5A):61F-68F. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2005.07.013. 16126025
  4. Chapdelaine PA Jr. Effects of life-style modification on serum lipids Arch Intern Med. 1992 Aug;152(8):1721-2, 1725. 1497407
  5. Lozano P, Henrikson NB, Morrison CC, Dunn J, Nguyen M, Blasi P, Whitlock EP. Lifestyle Change Alone Sufficient to Lower Cholesterol in Male Patient With Moderately Elevated Cholesterol: A Case Report Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2016 Aug. Report No.: 14-05204-EF-1. 27559550
  6. [No authors listed] 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. 1990 Feb 8;322(6):402-4. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199002083220612. 2300094
  7. Marckmann P, Astrup A. High-monounsaturated fatty acid diets lower both plasma cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Sep;72(3):853-6. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/72.3.853. 10966909
  8. Anderson JW, Story L, Sieling B, Chen WJ, Petro MS, Story J. Oat-bran intake selectively lowers serum low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations of hypercholesterolemic men Am J Clin Nutr. 1984 Dec;40(6):1146-55. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/40.6.1146. 6095635
  9. Romero AL, Romero JE, Galaviz S, Fernandez ML. Full-fat rice bran and oat bran similarly reduce hypercholesterolemia in humans J Am Coll Nutr. 1998 Dec;17(6):601-8. doi: 10.1080/07315724.1998.10718809. 9853540
  10. Mantzioris E, James MJ, Gibson RA, Cleland LG. Nutritional attributes of traditional flaxseed in healthy young adults Am J Clin Nutr. 1995 Oct;62(4):841-2. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/62.4.841. 7572718
  11. Lucas EA, Wild RD, Hammond LJ, Khalil DA, Juma S, Daggy BP, Stoecker BJ, Arjmandi BH. Flaxseed reduces total and LDL cholesterol concentrations in Native American postmenopausal women J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Apr;87(4):1527-32. doi: 10.1210/jcem.87.4.8374. 11932276
  12. Kris-Etherton PM, Etherton TD, Yu S. Effect of garlic and fish-oil supplementation on serum lipid and lipoprotein concentrations in hypercholesterolemic men Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Feb;65(2):560-1. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/65.2.560. 9022544
  13. Lerner DJ, Hulley SB. Effect of garlic on total serum cholesterol. A meta-analysis Ann Intern Med. 1994 Jun 1;120(11):969-70. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-120-11-199406010-00011. 8172443
  14. Spiller GA, Jenkins DJ, Cragen LN, Gates JE, Bosello O, Berra K, Rudd C, Stevenson M, Superko R. Partial replacement of saturated fatty acids with almonds or walnuts lowers total plasma cholesterol and low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol J Am Coll Nutr. 1992 Apr;11(2):126-30. 1315812
  15. Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Marchie A, Josse AR, Nguyen TH, Faulkner DA, Lapsley KG, Singer W. Dose response of almonds on coronary heart disease risk factors: blood lipids, oxidized low-density lipoproteins, lipoprotein(a), homocysteine, and pulmonary nitric oxide: a randomized, controlled, crossover trial Metabolism. 2008 Jul;57(7):882-7. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.01.032. 18555827
  16. Ahuja KD, Pittaway JK, Ball MJ. Protective effect of lycopene on serum cholesterol and blood pressure: Meta-analyses of intervention trials Nutrition. 2006 Mar;22(3):259-65. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2005.07.015. Epub 2006 Jan 18. 16413753
  17. Wright AJ, Hughes DA, Bailey AL, Southon S. No significant effects of lutein, lycopene or beta-carotene supplementation on biological markers of oxidative stress and LDL oxidizability in healthy adult subjects J Lab Clin Med. 1999 Dec;134(6):592-8. doi: 10.1016/s0022-2143(99)90098-7. 10595786
  18. Mann GV. Effects of walnuts on serum lipid levels and blood pressure in normal men N Engl J Med. 1993 Jul 29;329(5):358; author reply 359-60. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199307293290513. 8321265
  19. Alshahrani SM, Mashat RM, Almutairi D, Mathkour A, Alqahtani SS, Alasmari A, Alzahrani AH, Ayed R, Asiri MY, Elsherif A, Alsabaani A. Effects of walnut consumption on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis and systematic review Nutrients. 2022 Oct 23;14(21):4460. doi: 10.3390/nu14214460. 36364723
  20. Sheridan MJ, Cooper JN, Erario M, Cheifetz CE. Effect of pistachio nuts on serum lipid levels in patients with moderate hypercholesterolemia J Am Coll Nutr. 2007 Apr;26(2):141-8. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2007.10719595. 17536125
  21. Mate? L, Popa DS, Rusu ME, Fize?an I, Leucu?a D. Including walnuts in a low-fat/modified-fat diet improves HDL cholesterol-to-total cholesterol ratios in patients with type 2 diabetes Antioxidants (Basel). 2022 Jul 21;11(7):1412. doi: 10.3390/antiox11071412. 35883903
  22. Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Hallfrisch J. Barley and wheat foods: influence on plasma cholesterol concentrations in hypercholesterolemic men J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Feb;23(1):55-62. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2004.10719343. 14963054
  23. Dicks L, Kirch N, Gronwald D, Wernken K, Zimmermann BF, Helfrich HP, Ellinger S. Daily consumption of a dark chocolate containing flavanols and added sterol esters affects cardiovascular risk factors in a normotensive population with elevated cholesterol Nutrients. 2018 Oct 5;10(10):1435. doi: 10.3390/nu10101435. 30301127
  24. Charest A, Desroches S, Vanstone CA, Jones PJ, Lamarche B. Unesterified plant sterols and stanols lower LDL-cholesterol concentrations equivalently in hypercholesterolemic persons J Nutr. 2004 Mar;134(3):592-5. doi: 10.1093/jn/134.3.592. 14988452
  25. Kono S, Shinchi K, Wakabayashi K, Honjo S, Todoroki I, Sakurai Y, Imanishi K, Nishikawa H, Ogawa S, Katsurada M. Green tea consumption and serum lipids and lipoproteins in a population of healthy workers in Japan J Epidemiol. 1996 Sep;6(3):128-33. doi: 10.2188/jea.6.128. 8952216
  26. Muls E, Kolanowski J, Scheen A, Van Gaal L; ObelHyx Study Group. Cholesterol lowering effect of dietary weight loss and orlistat treatment--efficacy and limitations Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Nov;25(11):1713-21. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0801814. 11753595
  27. Insull W Jr, Davidson MH, Demke DM, Dujovne CA, Eckert SM, Ginsberg D, Goldberg AC, Hodis HN, Hughes TA, Kane JP, et al. Weight loss improves lipoprotein lipid profiles in patients with hypercholesterolemia Atherosclerosis. 1995 Jan 20;112(2):223-35. doi: 10.1016/0021-9150(94)05418-i. 7772081
  28. Kamanna VS, Kashyap ML. Niacin and cholesterol: role in cardiovascular disease (review) Am J Cardiol. 2008 Apr 17;101(8A):20B-26B. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2008.02.029. 18375237
  29. Grundy SM. Arterial Biology for the Investigation of the Treatment Effects of Reducing Cholesterol (ARBITER) 2: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of extended-release niacin on atherosclerosis progression in secondary prevention patients treated with statins Circulation. 2004 Dec 7;110(23):3509-11. doi: 10.1161/01.CIR.0000151100.28000.B3. 15583089
  30. Kuusi T, Nikkilä EA, Saarinen P, Varjo P, Laitinen LA. Exercise acutely increases high density lipoprotein-cholesterol and lipoprotein lipase activity in trained and untrained men Atherosclerosis. 1982 Feb;41(2-3):209-19. doi: 10.1016/0021-9150(82)90186-1. 7066071
  31. Bergeron J, Couillard C, Després JP, Gagnon J, Leon AS, Rao DC, Skinner JS, Wilmore JH, Bouchard C. Effects of endurance exercise training on plasma HDL cholesterol levels depend on levels of triglycerides: evidence from men of the Health, Risk Factors, Exercise Training and Genetics (HERITAGE) Family Study Atherosclerosis. 2001 Dec;159(2):399-406. doi: 10.1016/s0021-9150(01)00515-9. 11730820
  32. Elkin PL, Bauer BA. 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 Nov 19;339(21):1552; author reply 1553. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199811193392113. 9841328
  33. Hodson L, Skeaff CM, Chisholm WA. Diet and serum lipids in vegan vegetarians: a model for risk reduction Eur J Clin Nutr. 2001 Oct;55(10):908-15. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601234. 11593354
  34. Wirtz PH, Ehlert U, Bärtschi C, Redwine LS, von Känel R. Acute cholesterol responses to mental stress and change in posture Metabolism. 2009 Jan;58(1):30-7. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.08.003. 19059528
  35. Smoak BL, Norton JP, Ferguson EW, Deuster PA. What are the effects of psychological stress and physical work on blood lipid profiles? J Am Coll Nutr. 1990 Dec;9(6):567-72. doi: 10.1080/07315724.1990.10720410. 2273189
  36. Wirtz PH, Ehlert U, Bärtschi C, Redwine LS, von Känel R. Acute cholesterol responses to mental stress and change in posture Metabolism. 2009 Jan;58(1):30-7. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.08.003. 19059528
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