So you want to look after your heart by adjusting your eating habits – what are helpful foods to lower cholesterol through diet*? It’s a good question, as we see a lot of (occasionally contradictory) advice about ways to help maintain heart health and what you should or should not be eating. Sometimes it is difficult to be sure what foods lower cholesterol as part of a healthy diet – and there are plenty of myths and misconceptions about cholesterol to be found online. Luckily, help is at hand.
What foods lower cholesterol?
When it comes to maintaining a desirable cholesterol level, a healthy, balanced diet is essential. One of the key ways you can adapt your balanced diet to help lower cholesterol is to swap the saturated fat you eat with unsaturated fat*, which is why many lists claiming to share “The Best Foods To Lower Cholesterol” suggest foods high in unsaturated fat, like vegetable oils and spreads, nuts, or avocados. These foods allow you to replace other foods high in saturated fat and still get the fat you need in your diet – we have a list of these in our article on foods containing unsaturated fat here.
But there are in fact foods that help to actively reduce cholesterol levels, and they can easily be enjoyed as part of an overall healthy diet. When it comes to actual cholesterol-lowering, foods that can help are those to which one of a small group of special ingredients have been added: plant sterols**, plant stanols***, and beta-glucan****.
Plant sterols and stanols
Cholesterol is produced naturally by the liver and through dietary intake – after which it makes its way around the body. Plant sterols work by partially blocking the absorption of cholesterol from the gut, resulting in less cholesterol entering the bloodstream. As part of a healthy, balanced diet with sufficient fruit and vegetables, eating around 2g (1.5-2.4g) a day can lower cholesterol by 7-10% within 2-3 weeks.
Cholesterol lowering: Foods with added plant sterols
Foods containing added plant sterols, like those in the Flora ProActiv range, are a practical, simple way to get them in your diet. While plant sterols are found naturally in fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, it’s in such small quantities that it’s not possible to consume enough by eating those foods.
Our spreads, milk, and mini-drinks are designed to make it both easy (and tasty) to include plant sterols in your diet in a way that is convenient for you – you can find out more about this in our article on plant sterols here.
Beta-glucan is a type of fibre found in oats and barley, and is shown to lower cholesterol as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. A daily intake of 3g of beta-glucan is necessary for this effect – a 30g bowl of oatmeal porridge would offer around 33% of this amount.
Beta-glucan foods to reduce cholesterol through diet
There are a few different products that include beta-glucans. As mentioned above, oatmeal porridge is a great breakfast for people wanting to maintain heart health. Try adding nuts and fruit to add in a little extra fibre, as well as one of your five-a-day fruit and veg.
Barley is another example of a food containing beta-glucan. This can be cooked from scratch in a barley risotto, but it is also an ingredient in some wholegrain breads and crackers. Look out for labels that mention oats and barley, and try integrating these foods into your regular meals. Heart UK has a handy guide to beta-glucan here.
Crafting a cholesterol-lowering diet
As mentioned above, another way of lowering cholesterol is to replace the saturated fat in your diet with unsaturated fat. Unlike the foods above, unsaturated fat foods are best thought of as a way to replace saturated fat in your diet, rather than as an additional thing to include. More unsaturated and less saturated fat in your diet can help to decrease your cholesterol levels overall.
There are some great foods that you can start eating more frequently which will help you to do this:
- For example, start replacing cooking fats that are high in saturates, like butter and coconut oil, with unsaturated products, such as vegetable oil and spreads.
- You can also get more unsaturated fat in your diet by eating more oily fish once or twice a week instead of meat. Try salmon with pesto and green vegetables, or sardines on toast for breakfast. Mackerel is another great oily fish, which can be easily integrated into your diet any time of the day. We have plenty of seafood recipes here on the ProActiv website.
- Finally, if you are looking for heart-healthy snacking material, try nuts. Almonds, macadamias, and walnuts are all packed with healthy fats. This makes them a great option for mid-afternoon hunger attacks, replacing baked goods like cookies and cakes (often high in saturated fat). Just remember that nuts can be quite energy dense, so read the packet to determine the portion size that fits well within the recommended allowance for the day.
When it comes to cholesterol lowering, food – or rather, your diet – is one of the important ways you can help make a difference to your level with practical choices. With the help of the guide above, and our free Cholesterol Lowering Starter Kit – which you can download here! – you can enjoy cholesterol-friendly, delicious meals in no time. Both your heart and your taste buds will thank you for it!
*Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in the diet has been shown to lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor of heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease, and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.
***Plant stanols have been shown to lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease, and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.
****Beta-glucan has been shown to lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease, and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.