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13 Tasty Cholesterol-Lowering Foods to Add to Your Diet

April 12, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense
Brooke McKelvey
Reviewed by
Katie K.
RD

It’s no secret that good nutrition is one of the key factors to a healthy life. After all, modifying and managing your diet can help with everything from allergies and illnesses to your blood glucose and cholesterol levels!

A heart-healthy diet is a great way to ensure you’re keeping your blood cholesterol levels right where they need to be—but why is this so important? And what is cholesterol anyway? Read on to find out more, and add some of our favorite cholesterol-friendly foods to your diet.

What is Cholesterol?

a list of types of cholesterol

Cholesterol is a lipid molecule—a waxy, fat-like substance—a vital part of your body. Lipids are an essential part of cell membranes, and they’re also used to make hormones and other molecules.

Cholesterol is produced by the liver and plays a vital role in many bodily processes. For example, it’s essential for producing bile acids, which are necessary for digesting fats. Cholesterol is also involved in the production of vitamin D and other hormones.

Although some cholesterol is necessary for good health, too much of it can be harmful. High cholesterol levels in the blood can lead to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Healthy eating is a crucial component in controlling and treating high cholesterol.

There Are Different Types of Cholesterol

There are two main types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL, sometimes called "good" cholesterol, helps remove excess cholesterol from the blood and transport it to the liver for excretion. On the other hand, LDL is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol because it can build up in the arteries and increase the risk of heart disease. Remember, we need both HDL and LDL, but too much LDL can be bad for you. 

High LDL cholesterol levels can increase your risk of coronary complications like blood clots, clogged blood vessels, and heart attacks.

Your Diet Can Help You Manage Your Cholesterol Levels

a basket of fruit

Not everyone needs a low-cholesterol diet, so don’t naturally assume this is a healthy option for everyone. And even for those who do, there’s no one-size-fits-all, so it’s best to speak with a registered dietitian to see what suits you.

Some foods are high-cholesterol because they contain added sugars and processed ingredients, which may be a good idea to avoid or reduce your intake of in any case. Others, like eggs, are thought of as high cholesterol but are not processed and contain other nutrients such as vitamin B-12, choline, and protein.

But research shows that eating one to three eggs is safe for healthy people. This may depend on genetic factors such as familial hypercholesterolemia, in which someone may need to limit their intake of these foods. The same goes for other ‘high-cholesterol’ foods, including red meat, dairy products, and shellfish.

There is some debate on the role of saturated fats and cholesterol and sugar intake and how both of these factors might influence our cholesterol levels. Diets high in sugar can lead to increased LDL levels in some people.

Since not everyone responds the same way to all foods, curating a diet that’s heart-healthy and good for your cholesterol levels will depend on your responses to food. You can use tools like the continuous glucose monitor to track how your body responds to different foods to figure this out. 

While you may need to take medication to lower your cholesterol if it's too high (only a doctor will be able to assess this), most cholesterol-friendly foods are all-around healthy options. So there’s no real downside to adding them to your diet.

13 Cholesterol-Friendly Foods we Love

Instead of cutting foods out of your diet, it’s always a good idea (and a lot more fun) to add foods to your diet if you can tolerate them. Here are 13 tasty options to get you started:

1) Nuts

a display of different nuts

Nuts are small, dry fruits typically with a hard shell and edible seed. They’re a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Some of our favorites are almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and peanuts.

Nuts are a good source of healthy fats, protein, and fiber, and they’re also rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eating nuts can help lower cholesterol levels. They also contain plant sterols, which are compounds that can block cholesterol absorption.

2) Oats

a bowl of oats with fruit

Oats are a cereal grain long associated with lowered cholesterol levels. It's because oats contain a type of soluble fiber known as beta-glucan.

Beta-glucan works by binding to cholesterol in the digestive tract and preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream.

As a result, oats can help lower total cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels. The antioxidant content of oats can also help protect against heart disease by reducing inflammation.

3) Fatty Fish

salmon lox toast plate

Fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to promote heart health. Omega-3s fats can help lower LDL cholesterol levels and raise HDL cholesterol levels by reducing triglyceride levels.

In addition, omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is a risk factor for heart disease, so by reducing inflammation, omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce the risk of heart disease.

So, eating fatty fish regularly may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

4) Avocados

avocado on a plate

Avocados are often lauded for their healthy fats, but did you know that they can also help to lower cholesterol levels?

Avocados are rich in fiber, which has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. They're also a good source of monounsaturated fat, which helps to improve HDL cholesterol levels. They’re often dubbed a "superfood" due to their high nutrient and antioxidant content.

5) Soy

seasoned tofu plate

Soybeans are a type of legume that is native to East Asia. They’ve been a staple in the diets of countries like China and Japan for centuries and are a rich source of protein. They also contain other nutrients, including fiber, iron, and calcium.

One of the most impressive things about soybeans is their ability to help lower cholesterol levels. It's because soybeans contain plant phytosterols, which are compounds that can block the absorption of cholesterol.

Numerous studies have shown that soy consumption can lead to a significant decrease in LDL cholesterol levels. This, in turn, can reduce the risk of heart disease. In addition, soybeans are a good source of fiber, which can help lower cholesterol levels.

For all these reasons, including soy in your diet is a simple and effective way to help keep your cholesterol levels in check. You can get good sources of soy from edamame, tofu, and organic tempeh. Or, if you can tolerate vegetable oils, try some soybean oil.

6) Legumes

bowl of beans

Legumes are a plant that includes beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas. They’re a good source of protein, fiber, and several vitamins and minerals.

Legumes have many health benefits, including lowering cholesterol levels. They are high in fiber, which helps to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. In addition, legumes contain soluble fiber, which helps to remove excess cholesterol from the body.

Soluble fiber helps bind with cholesterol molecules in the digestive tract, preventing them from being absorbed into the bloodstream. And legumes are also a good source of plant-based protein, which helps to promote heart health.

So it’s no surprise they’re such an excellent addition to a heart-healthy diet, especially if you’re trying to manage or lower cholesterol levels.

7) Apples

a few loose apples

Ah, apples. While an apple a day may not be enough to keep the doctor away, they’re seen as healthy food for good reason. They’re low in calories and fat and high in fiber, and they can also help lower cholesterol levels.

The soluble fiber in apples binds to cholesterol in the digestive tract and helps to remove it from the body. In addition, the polyphenols in apples help to prevent the absorption of cholesterol from your diet.

As a result, apples can be a great addition to a cholesterol-lowering, heart-healthy diet. Like the other foods on this list, apples alone can't miraculously lower cholesterol levels. But they can help improve cholesterol profiles when combined with other healthy lifestyle changes.

8) Barley

a bowl of barley and banana

Barley is a versatile whole grain that can be used in various ways, from soups and stews to breakfast cereals and snacks. It also happens to be a nutritional powerhouse, offering a range of health benefits.

One of the most impressive is its ability to help lower cholesterol levels. Numerous studies have shown that barley can help reduce LDL cholesterol while boosting HDL cholesterol.

This effect is likely due to the beta-glucans found in barley. It binds to cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed by your body. In addition, barley and other whole grains are good sources of fiber, which also help to lower LDL cholesterol levels. 

9) Cocoa

a cup of cocoa

Cocoa beans are a good source of antioxidants, which have been shown to have many health benefits, including lower cholesterol levels. Cocoa bean extract can help reduce LDL cholesterol, which contributes to plaque buildup in your arteries.

In addition, cocoa bean extract can help increase HDL cholesterol, the cholesterol that helps remove plaque from your arteries. Cocoa beans are also a good source of fiber, which can help to reduce the absorption of LDL cholesterol from the gut  into the bloodstream.

As a result, cocoa beans may be an effective weapon against high cholesterol levels. This means that having some dark chocolate in your diet can be good for your health—and that’s always good news for us!

10) Berries

a carton of strawberries

Berries are not only delicious and low fat, but they can also have a positive impact on your health. Studies have shown that berries can help to lower cholesterol levels, contain anti-inflammatory properties, and improve heart health.

One reason for this is that berries are rich in antioxidants, which help to remove harmful toxins from the body. Additionally, berries are a good source of soluble fiber, which helps to reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. 

11) Garlic

a head of garlic

Studies have shown that garlic can help to reduce total cholesterol levels and lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Garlic is also linked to lowering blood pressure levels, which can help prevent cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, garlic is a rich source of antioxidants, which can help to protect against cell damage. To get the most benefit from garlic, consume it raw or lightly cooked. 

12) Tea

a cup of tea with lemon

Tea is more than just a delicious beverage. It’s been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, and as the USDA states, it can help lower cholesterol levels. Tea is also a good source of antioxidants, which can help protect against heart disease.

Recent studies show that black tea may reduce total and LDL cholesterol, both risk factors for heart disease. While more research is needed to confirm these benefits, drinking tea may be a helpful way to lower your cholesterol levels and protect your heart health.

13) Leafy Greens

a head of bok choy

Leafy greens include kale, spinach, collards, and Swiss chard. They are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K and magnesium, iron, and folate.

They’re also low in calories and fat, making them a healthy addition to any diet, not just one to help your cholesterol. Leafy greens can help lower cholesterol levels. This is because they contain fiber, which helps to remove cholesterol from the body

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

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13 Tasty Cholesterol-Lowering Foods to Add to Your Diet
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Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]
Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]

Learn everything you need to know about the relationship between triglycerides levels and blood glucose.


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7
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Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer
Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer

If you're gearing up to travel or spend more time outdoors this summer, here are a few tips to help you stay safe and hydrated in the sun.

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7
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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

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5
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Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians
Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians

Still haven't settled on the perfect gift for your Valentine this year? Take a look at our Nutrition Team's favorites for some thoughtful ideas.

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10
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The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For
The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For

Because nerve damage can have many silent symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. Read on to learn more about what causes nerve damage and some warning signs to watch out for.

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7
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The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health
The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health

Ready to learn all about fiber beyond just the basics? In this post, we dive deep into the different kinds of fiber and health benefits of each. From functional fiber to fermentation, we break down all the jargon into a layman's language.

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8
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The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar

Did you know that cardio can help you lose weight as well as optimize your health and blood glucose? Here's everything you need to know about cardio and its relationship with blood sugar.

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7
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The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss
The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss

Find out what unhealthy weight loss is and learn more about its side effects and what you can do to prevent them.

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6
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The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure
The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure

Learn about the warning signs of low blood sugar and the relationship it has on blood pressure.

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10
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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

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7
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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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8
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The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

NutriSense dietitian Katrina Larsen, MS, RD,N, LD, CDCES discusses the risk factors for sleep apnea and how this disorder is linked to other health conditions.

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5
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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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8
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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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6
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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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8
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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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9
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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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8
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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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7
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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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12
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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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6
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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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9
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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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10
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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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6
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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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9
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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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10
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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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8
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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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9
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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.