Foods That Lower Cholesterol: Best Foods for Heart Health

High cholesterol can be dangerous. It shows no symptoms, and blood tests ordered by a doctor are the only way to detect it. Untreated high cholesterol can lead to a heart attack — or worse. But there’s a lot you can do to stop this from happening.

Fitness is just one thing that can help lower your cholesterol. What you eat every day also matters — especially if you tend to follow a diet high in a certain type of fat.

With the right foods and exercise routine — and a few other small changes — you might even be able to treat your high cholesterol without medication.

What causes high cholesterol?

Human heart

Human heart | Hywards/iStock/Getty Images

You need a certain amount of cholesterol in your body to stay healthy. But too much can increase your risk of heart disease. Too much LDL (“bad”) cholesterol can build up in the arteries that lead to your heart, which makes you more likely to have a heart attack.

Though food is a major contributor to high cholesterol, it isn’t the only issue. Other factors also increase your risk and endanger your heart, such as:

  • Physical inactivity
  • A diet high in saturated fat
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking

Your genes can also play a role in how well your cells remove “bad” cholesterol from your blood. But you can’t control your genetic makeup. You can, however, control the foods you do and don’t eat to avoid dangerously high cholesterol.

Foods to avoid with high cholesterol

If your cholesterol levels aren’t where they should be, your doctor will probably recommend you make some changes to your diet. This might mean limiting how often you eat the following foods:

  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Red meat (beef, lamb, pork)
  • Processed meats such as sausage and bacon
  • Coconut oil and other vegetable oils
  • Fried foods
  • Chips, crackers, cookies, and other junk foods and desserts.

Saturated fats trigger the body to produce more “bad” cholesterol. Because the foods above contain high levels of both “natural” and added saturated fats, it’s best to either cut back on your consumption or avoid them completely if you have high cholesterol.

Foods that lower cholesterol

Breakfast oatmeal

Breakfast oatmeal | iStock.com/Roxiller

If you have high cholesterol, making small changes to your diet is one of the best things you can do to lower your levels and protect yourself against heart disease. Along with medication and exercise, a diet high in fiber and healthy fats can clear out a lot of the potentially harmful cholesterol hanging out in your blood.

Some of the best foods to eat to improve your cholesterol and protect your heart include:

  • Beans
  • Whole grains, such as oats or oat bran
  • Nuts
  • Fatty fish, like white tuna or salmon
  • Other forms of healthy fat, such as avocados and olive oil
  • Fruits such as strawberries, apples, and citrus
  • Low-calorie vegetables such as eggplant and okra.

The combination of fiber and healthy fats in the foods suggested above help lower excessive levels of “bad” cholesterol in your body and prevent too much cholesterol from circulating in your blood. Fiber (oats, beans, fruits) pushes cholesterol through and out your digestive tract. Fats (nuts, fish, olive oil) lower LDL cholesterol and help maintain adequate levels of HDL.