As you may or may not know, there’s a big difference between good, or HDL cholesterol in your body, and bad, LDL cholesterol. And your diet comes into play in a truly significant way when it comes to managing healthy cholesterol levels – which is very dependent on the foods you include or limit in your diet.
This article will go into depth about the best foods you should eat in order to increase your HDL, decrease your LDL, and maintain an optimal total cholesterol level. It will also give various ideas on the best way to fit these cholesterol-supporting foods into your diet, daily.
It’s worth noting that there are also high cholesterol foods that you should avoid or eat in moderation. To learn what they are and more about cholesterol and your health, read this article on Good and Bad Cholesterol so you can avoid the risks and start taking action towards healthier levels.
Getting your cholesterol numbers to a healthy place the next time you get your levels checked may be easier (or tastier) than you think! In actuality, quite a few staple foods can help you maintain optimal levels. Here are some of the top choices, many of which you may already have in your kitchen cabinets!
Top 10 Foods That Lower Cholesterol Levels
1) Olives and Olive Oil
Olives and their associated oils are some of the healthiest foods out there, since they’re rich in healthy, monounsaturated fats (or MUFAs) – which are known to help improve cholesterol levels. Olive oil also contains powerful, disease-fighting antioxidants and helps reduce inflammation in your body, lowering the impact of LDL cholesterol.
Ways to Enjoy: Extra-virgin olive oil has the most benefits, but it also cannot withstand high cooking temperatures. Only cook with it at low temperatures or add it into salad dressings and marinades. Drizzle some on top of mozzarella cheese, tomato and fresh basil leaves for a sumptuous lunch, or top a salad by mixing the oil with some lemon or lime juice.
2) Avocados and Avocado Oil
This high-fat fruit is another superfood, also packed with MUFA’s that help lower LDL cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease. They’re also high in folate and jam-packed with fiber, which is also known to help manage healthy cholesterol levels.
Ways to Enjoy: Avocados are an incredibly versatile and satisfying food. Chop some up to add to your salad, tacos, nachos, chili or soup. Or, make a guacamole with easy dipping using celery or carrot sticks. Avocado oil is a healthy replacement for vegetable oils, and unlike extra-virgin olive oil, it can withstand high heat temperatures, so it’s perfect for baking, sautéing and frying.
3) Whole Grains
If you aren’t on a low-carb diet, adding whole grains into your meals will go a long way towards lower cholesterol levels. Some great options include oats, brown or wild rice, bran, whole grain bread, cereal or pasta. All of these foods are high in soluble fiber, which helps lower LDL and boost HDL levels.
Ways to Enjoy: Replace servings of refined carbs (such as white bread, rice or pasta) with a healthier whole grain option. In addition, oatmeal makes a great quick, fiber-rich breakfast that can help sustain your hunger longer than sugary cereals.
4) Some Fruits
The high fiber amount in certain fruits makes them some of the best foods that lower cholesterol. Some of these fruits include apples, pears, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits and prunes. Just like with whole grains, these fruits lower your LDL and increase your HDL levels.
Ways to Enjoy: Fruits make fabulous, tasty additions to your meal replacement shakes! In particular, strawberries and apples are smoothie recipe favorites, creating addictive flavor and great texture.
5) Fatty Fish
Certain fish (such as salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, sardines and rainbow trout) contain heart-healthy fats called omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats work to lower the bad, LDL cholesterol in your body. Plus, they can help with weight control by keeping you satisfied longer after meals, and leading to less snacking on unhealthy foods.
Ways to Enjoy: In particular, salmon and albacore tuna are two high-fat fish that are easy to fit into busy schedules. Make a tuna salad using light mayo to put on top of your salad or even as a topper for your avocado. Or, have some whole grain crackers with a small spread of goat cheese and some smoked salmon as a high-protein lunch that’s perfect on a healthy cholesterol diet.
6) Flax and Chia Seeds
Speaking of omega-3’s, if you’re on a vegetarian or vegan diet and don’t eat fish, flax and chia seeds are a great plant-based way to get these fats. When it comes to flax seeds, you have to get them ground, because your body can’t digest them whole. Chia seeds can be consumed whole and sprinkled on top of your meals. You can also use flaxseed oil as another source of these heart-healthy, cholesterol-lowering fats.
Ways to Enjoy: Ground flax seeds or chia seeds are versatile! Add them into your protein shake, yogurt, oatmeal or even salad. Chia seeds also make a great replacement for eggs in baked goods if you’re on a plant-based diet.
7) Beans and Legumes
Beans are a great fiber-rich addition to any meal, and can help you get good protein in your diet while taking a break from animal-based sources. They’re also one of the best food options to lower cholesterol and maintain normal cholesterol levels due to all the fiber. Some great options include black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, black-eyed peas and lentils.
Ways to Enjoy: Add beans into chilis, soups, salads, taco meat, quesadillas and more. Or, make a lentil or black bean soup, and add in avocado or a scoop of guacamole for even more cholesterol-lowering benefits.
8) Some Nuts
Like flax and chia seeds, certain nuts (including Brazil nuts, almonds, pistachios and even peanuts) contain heart-healthy fats. In addition, they’re high in fiber, supporting healthy cholesterol levels even more. And they contain a substance called plant sterols, which help block the absorption of cholesterol in your body.
Ways to Enjoy: Nuts are incredibly versatile, and whereas they make a great snack on their own, they can also be added into meals and even healthy desserts. Make a chicken stir-fry and throw in some peanuts and almond slivers, or add a nut-butter onto a sandwich with whole grain bread or even into a meal replacement shake.
9) Raw Yogurt
Fermented foods, including highly-popular yogurt, have been shown to potentially improve cholesterol levels by lowering bad cholesterol. The key ingredient is live, active probiotics– or healthy bacteria that your gut needs for optimal health. Of course, not any yogurt will do. The more raw and less processed the yogurt, the better, and avoid sugary versions.
Ways to Enjoy: You knew we’d say it! Add Greek yogurt into a protein/meal replacement shake for a creamy effect, or top it with more cholesterol-lowering foods, such as oats and strawberries. Raw yogurt can also be used as a healthier replacement for sour cream in recipes.
10) Red Wine
Do you love a daily glass of red wine?! That might not be a bad thing when it comes to your cholesterol levels. You may be surprised to learn that drinking moderate amounts of red wine may slightly raise your HDL, or good cholesterol levels. However, keep in mind that a “moderate” amount is just one glass (or 5 ounces) of wine per day for women and two glasses per day for men. And keep in mind that grapes or red grape juice may offer the same heart health benefits.
Ways to Enjoy: For a switch on the regular glass of wine, try this healthier version of sangria! This summer sangria not only includes red wine, but also has cholesterol-lowering pears, strawberries and oranges! Cheers!
Hopefully after reading this article, the idea of improving your cholesterol with a healthier diet may not be as difficult as you previously imagined! The best part is, lots of these foods that lower cholesterol can be added into healthy meal replacement shake recipes – helping you get the protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and even probiotics that you need to stay healthy on-the-go!
Not sure how to find a shake that has truly good-for-you ingredients? Check out our top meal replacement shake recommendations here.