Cholesterol lowering foods

Six cholesterol-busting foods

There are several foods which are not just part of a healthy diet, they can actively help to lower your cholesterol too. Try to eat some of these every day as part of your healthy diet. The more you add them to what you eat, the more they can help lower your cholesterol, especially if you cut down on saturated fat as well.

1. Foods rich in unsaturated fats

Cutting down on saturated fat and replace some of it with unsaturated fats is great way to lower your cholesterol. Foods which contain unsaturated fats include: 

  • vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed, nut and seed oils
  • avocado, nuts and seeds
  • fat spreads made from vegetable oils, such as sunflower and olive oil
  • oily fish 

Oily fish are a good source of healthy unsaturated fats, specifically a type called omega-3 fats. Aim to eat two portions of fish per week, at least one of which should be oily. A portion is 140g, but you could have two or three smaller portions throughout the week. Tinned, frozen or fresh all count e.g. salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout, herring and mackerel.

Avoid coconut and palm oil as, unlike other vegetable oils, they are high in saturated fat.

Take a look at our delicious fish recipes

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2. Fruit and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers. They contain vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals which help you to stay healthy, and most contain little or no fat and are low in calories, so they can help you to stay a healthy weight. And, if you are eating more fruit and veg, chances are you're eating less of the other more energy-packed foods.

Fruit and vegetables are also high in fibre, and some types of fibre can help to lower your cholesterol. It blocks some cholesterol from being absorbed from the intestines into the blood stream. Pulses such as beans, peas and lentils are particularly high in this kind of fibre. Sweet potato, aubergine, okra (ladies’ fingers), broccoli, apples, strawberries and prunes are also good options.

Aim for:  at least five portions of fruit and veg a day. An adult portion is around 80g, or a handful. Make at least one of these beans, peas or lentils.

  • 3 tablespoons of vegetables – such as sweet potato, broccoli or okra
  • 3 tablespoons of beans, peas or lentils – all options count, 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
    half an avocado
  • a medium sized vegetable – such as a turnip, parsnip, sweet potato, leek, tomato or carrot
  • a medium sized fruit – for example, an apple, orange or 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
  • a bowl of salad

Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, tinned, frozen or dried. They all count. If you choose tinned, choose options in juice or water, without added sugar or salt.

Potatoes, yams, cassava and plantains are exceptions. They don’t count because they count as a starchy food, like rice or pasta.

Unsweetened fruit juice and smoothies count too, but only one portion. More than one doesn’t count because the loose sugar and acid in them can damage your teeth.

3. Nuts

Nuts are a good source of unsaturated fats and are lower in saturated fats, a mix which can help to keep your cholesterol in check. They contain fibre which can help block some cholesterol being absorbed into the blood stream from the gut, as well as protein, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, natural plant sterols and other plant nutrients which help keep your body healthy. They’re also filling, so you’re less likely to snack on other things.

Aim for:  28-30g of nuts a day, which is around a handful. 

All nuts count. Choose a variety and eat them instead of your normal snack or as part of a meal. Where possible, go for the kind with their skins still intact as they contain more nutrients. Good options are:

  • almonds, macadamias, brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, pecans. 

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4. Oats and barley

Oats and barley are grains which are rich in a type of fibre called beta glucan. Eating 3g of beta-glucan a day as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle can help to lower cholesterol.

When you eat beta glucan, it forms a gel which binds to cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestines. This helps limit the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed from the gut into your blood. Your liver then has to take more cholesterol out of your blood to make more bile, which lowers your blood cholesterol.

Aim for: three servings of the following oat-based products or barley per day to give you about 3g of beta glucans. 

  • a bowl of porridge – which is 30g of dry oats or a sachet of instant porridge
  • a bowl of oat-based breakfast cereal flakes – around 30-35g
  • 250 ml of Oat Drink containing beta-glucans (not all oat drinks contain beta-glucan so check to make sure)
  • 1 breakfast cereal oat type ‘biscuit’
  • 1-2 tbsp (13g) oatbran – try sprinkling it onto cereals or adding it to casseroles, stews, soups and smoothies
  • 3 oatcakes
  • 30g oats added to recipes
  • 60g cooked pearl barley – try adding it to stews, casseroles and soups

Many products now contain oats, which makes it easier to get your two to four servings. Foods which have a claim on the label saying they lower cholesterol will contain 1g or more of beta glucan.

5. Foods with added sterols and stanols

Sterols and stanols are plant chemicals which are a similar size and shape to cholesterol. They are absorbed from the intestines into the blood stream and block some cholesterol from being absorbed,  lowering the cholesterol in your blood.

We get a small amount of sterols from plant-based foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, but it’s not enough to lower cholesterol. So, food companies have developed foods with plant sterols or stanols added to them, such as mini yogurt drinks, fat spreads, milk and yogurts.

These fortified foods lower your cholesterol gradually, over a few weeks, and how much depends on the amount you eat. Some experts believe they are the most effective single food for lowering cholesterol.

Who should eat foods with sterols and stanols added?

Sterols and stanols have been thoroughly researched, so they can be added to foods and are safe to eat.

They are suitable for:

  • People with high cholesterol – there’s no real benefit if you don’t have high cholesterol.
  • Children with inherited high cholesterol such as familial hypercholesterolaemia – with support from a doctor or dietitian.
  • People taking statins – sterols and stanols will help to lower your cholesterol further because they work in a different way to the statin.

They are not suitable for:

  • Women who are pregnant or breast feeding.
  • Children who do not have an inherited condition.
  • They won’t have much effect if you are taking Ezetrol (Ezetimide) because they both work in a similar way.

Aim for:  one to three  servings  of fortified foods a day. This will give you 1.5 to 3g of stanols and sterols.

Over three weeks, this could lower your cholesterol by up to 10%. There’s no extra benefit to having more than 3g a day.

Three servings of:                                                 OR

  • 2 tsp fat spread
  • 1 glass of milk (250ml)

One product a day: 

  • 1 yoghurt (120g)
  • one fortified yoghurt mini-drink (65-100g bottle), which can be a dairy product or dairy-free. This will be enough sterols and stanols for the whole day.
  • one 40g fruit and nut cereal bar

To get the most from these foods, eat some every day and eat them with a meal rather than on their own. Look out for products labelled ‘fortified with stanols or sterols’. They can be branded, such as the Flora ProActiv and Benecol ranges, as well as supermarket own products.

6. Soya foods

Soya beans and the foods that are made from them are perfect for a heart-healthy diet. They’re full of protein, vitamins and minerals, and they're low in saturated fat.

Soya products are a good option for replacing foods which are high in saturated fat such as meat, full fat cream and dairy products, and  snacks such as crisps. 

Aim for:  around two to three servings of soya a foods day.

One serving is:

  • a large glass (250ml) of soya milk
  • 150g plain soya alternative to yogurt
  • 150g Greek-style soya alternative to yogurt
  • 100g soya mince
  • a handful of soya nuts (35g) – also known as roasted edamame beans, you’ll find them in the nuts and snacks section
  • edamame beans, about 80g – you’ll find them in the frozen foods section
  • 100g tofu – silken or firm

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