Cholesterol lowering foods

Six Super Foods for Lower Cholesterol

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

Read more in our Ultimate Cholesterol Lowering Plan© which is based on these six super foods, together with other healthy diets and recipes on the Healthy Living pages.

Super food 1 – Soya foods

Soya beans and the foods that are made from them are prefect for a healthy diet. They’re full of protein, vitamins and minerals are low in saturated fat. They play a role in helping to keep your cholesterol levels down too.

Try switching some of your usual meat, dairy products and deserts, such as milk, yoghurt and custard, to soya alternatives to help you lower your cholesterol.

Aim for: around two servings of soya a foods day. This should give you about 15g of soya protein per day which studies have shown can lower your cholesterol by around 6%.

  • a glass of soya milk
  • a soya yogurt – you can find flavoured or plain options
  • soya desserts
  • soya custard
  • soya meat alternatives – such as 50g of mince or cubes
  • a soya burger or sausage
  • a handful of soya nuts – 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
  • tofu – around 50g

Super food 2 – Nuts

All nuts are rich in protein, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium and contain natural plant sterols and other plant nutrients which help keep your body healthy and stave off disease.

They are high in unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats, a mix which can help to keep your cholesterol in check. They’re high in fibre which can help block some cholesterol being absorbed into the blood stream from the gut. Plus, they’re filling, so you’re less likely to snack on other things.

Aim for: 30-35g of nuts a day, which is around a handful. This can lower cholesterol by 5%.

  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Cashew nuts
  • Chestnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Macadamias
  • Peanuts
  • Pistachios
  • Walnut halves

All nuts count. Choose unsalted options because salt raises your blood pressure. Where possible, go for the kind with their skins still intact and unroasted, as they contain more nutrients.

Super food 3 – Oats and barley

Oats and barley are grains which are rich in a type of fibre called beta glucan – which can help you to lower your cholesterol.

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

The beta glucans are in the outer layer of the grain – one of the reasons whole grains are so good for you. The term whole grain simply means that the entire grain is included in the food product – so it includes all the nutrients. Refined grains have had the outer layer removed which means they lose some of the nutrients, for example white bread and white pasta.

Oats and other whole grains can keep you feeling full so you’re not tempted to snack. They’re low in fat too, so they’re perfect as part of a healthy diet.

Aim for: around two to four portions of oat-based products or barley per day. This will give your around 3g or beta glucans which should help to lower your cholesterol.

  • a bowl of porridge – which is 30g dry oats or a sachet of instant porridge
  • a bowl of oat-based breakfast cereal – around 30g
  • 1 serving of Mornflake oatbran cereal
  • 2 tbsp oatbran – try sprinkling it onto cereals or adding it to casseroles, stews, soups and smoothies
  • 3 oatcakes
  • 30g oats added to recipes
  • a serving of pearl barley – which is 20g uncooked or 50g cooked barley flakes, around 30g
  • Oatwell products such as bran powder, instant drink mix, or oat bar – one portion a day is enough

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 contain 1g or more of beta glucan.

Email the Cholesterol Helpline for more information

Super food 4 – 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. This lowers 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 – 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: two to four servings a day of fortified foods. This will give you 1.5 to 3g of stanols and sterols. Over three weeks, this could lower your cholesterol by up to 10% (one tenth). There’s no extra benefit from having more than 3g a day.

  • 2 tsp fat spread
  • 1 yoghurt (120g)
  • 1 glass of milk (250ml)
  • 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.

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

There’s more about plant sterols in our factsheet

Super food 5 - fruit and vegetables

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

Fruit and vegetables are also high in fibre, some of which can help to lower your cholesterol. It helps block 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
  • 3 tablespoons of beans, peas or lentils – all options count, for example chick peas, 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 bowl of salad
  • 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
  • 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

Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, tinned, frozen or dried. They all count. If you choose tinned, choose options in juice or water, not with 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.

How to get your five a day

It can be easier than you think to add more into your diet. They can add colour and texture to your meals too. Go for a range of different fruits and vegetables to get the full range of nutrients.

These count too:

  • a chopped banana or frozen berries to your morning cereal
  • add prunes to a bowl of porridge
  • add a side salad at lunch
  • snack on fruit when you’re hungry
  • add some extra vegetables to soups, stews and casseroles
  • swap some meat for lentils when you’re making dishes with mince, such as shepherd’s pie
  • serve some roasted vegetables as a side dish

Super food 6 - Foods rich in unsaturated fats

Cutting down on saturated fat is great way to lower your cholesterol and look after you heart. And it’s just as important to replace some of this with unsaturated fats.

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

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