Cholesterol lowering foods page 2

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 ProActiv 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, 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'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. Fibre 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 - such as sweet potato, broccoli or ockra
  • 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 - 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

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.

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.