Lowering cholesterol naturally isn’t impossible. This is especially true if you know what to do.
High cholesterol is a common affliction today, contributing to dangerous conditions like heart disease.
Most people turn to medication to lower their cholesterol levels instead of turning to the real culprits: diet and activity (or lack thereof).
With today’s discoveries in nutrition, we know that some specific foods can help lower cholesterol. In addition to making simple lifestyle changes, achieving healthy cholesterol naturally is completely possible.
If you’re trying to avoid taking statins, here’s a list of foods that lower cholesterol naturally:
1. Choose Good Fats
The first step to lowering cholesterol naturally is taking control of your diet, starting with fat. Fat has been unfairly demonized in recent decades as being the root cause of America’s obesity epidemic (1). Dietary fats are essential for our bodies to function at full capacity since it is a major energy source (2). However, not all fats are created equal. There are four main types of fats in our diets (in order from best to worst): monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats (3).
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are known as good fats, and come mainly from nuts, seeds, fish, and vegetables. A cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, monounsaturated fats are associated with a very low risk of heart disease (4). Olive oil, avocado, and most nuts are rich sources of this kind of fat. Polyunsaturated fats are an essential fat – meaning your body needs them and must get them from foods. These fats can help lower bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels (5). Salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts are good sources of polyunsaturated fats.
Whenever possible, replace unhealthy fats and carbohydrates in your diet with the mono- or polyunsaturated fats. Research studies show this helps to lower total cholesterol levels and reduce the associated risk of heart disease.
Saturated fats are ok when eaten sparingly, but trans fats should be completely avoided. Diets high in these two types of fat – such as the standard American diet – raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (6).
2. Eat Soluble Fiber-Rich Foods
A fiber-rich diet is helpful in so many ways: keeps you full, helps you lose weight, prevents blood sugar spikes, and is very effective in lowering cholesterol naturally (7). Clinical studies show that consuming a diet rich in soluble fiber helps lower both total and LDL cholesterol levels (8). It does so by preventing cholesterol absorption in your intestines, after it forms into gel-like substance in your stomach (9).
There are a few different types of fiber, so you want to aim for soluble fiber foods. Insoluble fiber isn’t bad for you, but soluble fiber-rich foods are really the best foods to lower cholesterol. Per recommendations from health agencies like the National Cholesterol Education Program, you should try to get between 25-30 grams of fiber every day (10). This might mean quite the change in your diet, so start off with 5-10 grams/day and work up from there. Foods with high soluble fiber content include oat bran, fruits, legumes, and barley (11). Try to get at least one serving of whole grain with every meal.
3. Look Into Phytosterol-Rich Foods
Phytosterols are naturally occurring plant compounds that have a very similar structure to cholesterol. Supplementing with phytosterols in clinical trials is found to effectively reduce LDL cholesterol levels (12). This seems to be because the lower intestines absorb these molecules instead of cholesterol during digestion. Increasing your phytosterol intake to just 2 g/day lowers LDL cholesterol by up to 10% (13)!
Just as with any nutrient, it’s best to get phytosterols from whole foods instead of supplements whenever possible (14). Since they are plant compounds, vegans and vegetarians consume the highest amounts of phytosterols. They also have correspondingly low cholesterol levels (15). Soybeans, cashews, peas, lentils, and sesame oil are all rich in phytosterols and easy additions to your diet.
4. Lose As Much Excess Weight As Possible
It is a well-established fact that being overweight or obese increases your risk of hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol). In fact, only 1 out of every 7 obese individuals has a normal cholesterol level (16). One of the reasons that obesity is associated with higher cholesterol levels is the poor dietary decisions that often lead to excess weight (17).
Carrying excess weight can also change the way your body reacts to cholesterol. Over time, your body becomes less efficient at removing LDL cholesterol, often due to a combination of factors that include insulin resistance and inflammation. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is the most effective road to lowering cholesterol naturally, even if you require temporary medication to get there (18). Even modest weight loss will improve cholesterol levels.
5. Cut Down on Sugar and Refined Carbs
Medical research continues to make connections between sugar and cholesterol levels. More specifically that simple and refined carbohydrates contribute to LDL and total cholesterol levels (19). Complex carbs – such as the fiber-rich grains previously mentioned – have the opposite effect (20).
Kicking a sugar habit is tough, so start with small steps (21). Instead of ice cream for dessert, have some fresh fruit with a little whipped cream. Replace the white bread in your pantry with 100% whole grain. Eventually it will be second nature!
6. Lower Alcohol Consumption
Both alcohol and cholesterol are filtered through your liver, so it would stand to reason that one would affect the other (22). Research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease (23). The catch: these results are seen in parts of the world where wine is the alcohol of choice, and drinking to excess isn’t common. These results aren’t limited to red wine, either. White wine seems to work just as well (24).
Moderate alcohol intake seems to improve HDL (good) cholesterol levels It should also be noted that moderate alcohol intake is only recommended for those who don’t already have high cholesterol. Anything more than moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with higher rates of heart disease, obesity, liver disease, and high blood pressure. No more than one drink per day (two for men), with approval from your doctor, is recommended (25). Should you find yourself unable to limit yourself, then it’s best not to drink at all.