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Top cholesterol-lowering foods

Top cholesterol-lowering foods
By Cara Rosenbloom RD

Cara Rosenbloom, RDWhat do oats, nuts, beans, vegetables and fruit have in common? These delicious foods help naturally lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Along with other key foods, scientists have rigorously studied oats, nuts, beans, vegetables and fruit for their positive effects on preventing heart disease. This column will show you how to include more of these delicious delights in your diet to help you control your cholesterol.

Cholesterol control

Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels can increase your risk for stroke and heart disease, as well as conditions such as atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). If you have high cholesterol, you can get your numbers back on track by being active (30 to 60 minutes most days), achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight, becoming smoke-free and making some dietary changes:   

  • Follow a lower-fat diet with between 20% to 35% of calories from fat. That’s equal to 45 to 75 grams of fat per day for women and 60 to 100 grams per day for men.
  • Avoid trans fat, which is found in foods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, such as fast foods and many packaged foods. Trans fats raise “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
  • Reduce your intake of foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, and dairy products such as butter, cheese, cream or homogenized milk.
  • Opt for healthy unsaturated fat found in oils, nuts and fish.
  • Eat more high-fibre foods, including whole grains, nuts, legumes, vegetables and fruit.

Nutritious cholesterol fighters

Here are some foods that can help lower cholesterol as part of a healthy, balanced diet:

Oats contain a type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which works like a trap to bind to the cholesterol in your digestive system and naturally eliminate it from the body. Just three grams of soluble fibre per day may help lower cholesterol levels by about 10% (125 mL/½ cup of oatmeal contains 1 gram of soluble fibre). To include more in your diet, use oats, oat bran or oat flour when you cook and bake. Start by trying our Oatmeal blueberry walnut muffinsbaked cinnamon pears with oat topping and hot 'n' spicy turkey burgers.

Nuts are loaded with a perfect combination of unsaturated fats and fibre, which reduce cholesterol levels naturally. They also contain unique plant sterols, which mimic cholesterol and replace it in the body, in a healthy way. Enjoying 70 mL/¼ cup (1 gram/1 ounce) of nuts about five times per week can lower heart disease risk by 25%. Choose unsalted nuts that are raw or dry-roasted. Avoid nuts that are salted, flavoured or roasted in oil. Use nuts to replace a serving of meat or a high calorie snack, not just as addition to the diet, since the calories add up quickly. Sprinkle toasted almonds on a stir-fry or salad, try pecans in trail mix, and use crushed walnuts to coat chicken, fish or tofu. Try our Cakes with sole or crunchy fruit and nut salad.   

Like oats, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans and kidney beans are high in soluble fibre, which prevents cholesterol from being absorbed into the body. Eating 125 mL/half-cup of beans per day can lower cholesterol levels by about 10%. Beans are a perfect addition to soups, stews, salads and pasta. Try hummus, burritos, vegetarian chili or Salmon, bean and orzo salad.

Vegetables and fruit
Vegetables and fruit have different functional properties that work to lower cholesterol levels. For example:

  • Eggplant, pears and okra are high in cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre
  • Blueberries, grapes and cranberries are high in the antioxidant pterostilbene, which helps metabolize cholesterol
  • Tomatoes, watermelon and papaya contain the antioxidant lycopene, which helps to keep cholesterol from oxidizing. (Oxidized cholesterol is harmful because it contributes to the formation of narrowed arteries).

Consuming 7 to 10 servings (a serving equals 125 mL/half-cup) per day of a variety of vegetables and fruit is ideal. Choose fruit for dessert, snack on vegetables and dip, and try our mixed vegetable stir-fry or oven-roasted asparagus as a perfect side-dish.

Learn more about cholesterol.

Posted: September 2009.

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