Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as egg yolks, meat, and cheese.
There are several foods which are not just part of a healthy diet, they actively help to lower your cholesterol too. Try to eat some of these every day. The more you add to your diet, the more they will lower your cholesterol, especially if you cut down on saturated fat as well.
Super food 1 – Soya foods
Soya beans and the foods that are made from them are prefect for a healthy diet. They’re full of protein, vitamins and minerals are low in saturated fat. They play a role in helping to keep your cholesterol levels down too. Try switching some of your usual meat, dairy products and deserts, such as milk, yoghurt and custard, to soya alternatives to help you lower your cholesterol.
Aim for: around two servings of soya a foods day. This should give you about 15g of soya protein per day which studies have shown can lower your cholesterol by around 6%.
Super food 2 – Nuts
All nuts are rich in protein, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium and contain natural plant sterols and other plant nutrients which help keep your body healthy and stave off disease.
They are high in unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats, a mix which can help to keep your cholesterol in check. They’re high in fibre which can help block some cholesterol being absorbed into the blood stream from the gut. Plus, they’re filling, so you’re less likely to snack on other things.
Aim for: 30-35g of nuts a day, which is around a handful. This can lower cholesterol by 5%.
Super food 3 – Oats and barley
Oats and barley are grains which are rich in a type of fibre called beta glucan – which can help you to lower your cholesterol.
When you eat beta glucan, it forms a gel which binds to cholesterol and bile (which is made from cholesterol) in the intestines. This helps limit the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed from the gut into your blood. Your liver has to take more cholesterol out of your blood to make more bile, which also lowers your blood cholesterol.
The beta glucans are in the outer layer of the grain – one of the reasons whole grains are so good for you. The term whole grain simply means that the entire grain is included in the food product – so it includes all the nutrients. Refined grains have had the outer layer removed which means they lose some of the nutrients, for example white bread and white pasta. Oats and other whole grains can keep you feeling full so you’re not tempted to snack. They’re low in fat too, so they’re perfect as part of a healthy diet.
Aim for: around two to four portions of oat-based products or barley per day. This will give your around 3g or beta glucans which should help to lower your cholesterol.
Super food 4 – Foods with added sterols and stanols
Sterols and stanols are plant chemicals which are a similar size and shape to cholesterol. They are absorbed from the intestines into the blood stream and block some cholesterol from being absorbed. This lowers the cholesterol in your blood. We get a small amount of sterols from plant-based foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. But it’s not enough to lower cholesterol. So, food companies have developed foods with plant sterols or stanols added to them, such as mini yogurt drinks, fat spreads, milk and yogurts.
These fortified foods lower your cholesterol gradually, over a few weeks. And how much depends on the amount you eat. Some experts believe they are the most effective single food for lowering cholesterol.
Super food 5 – fruit and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables can help protect against heart disease, stroke and some cancers. They’re high in vitamins and minerals and plant chemicals which help you to stay healthy and prevent disease. They contain little or no fat and are low in calories too so they can help you to stay a healthy weight. And if you are eating more fruit and veg chances are you are eating less of the other more energy-packed foods.
Fruit and vegetables are also high in fibre, some of which can help to lower your cholesterol. It helps block some cholesterol from being absorbed from the intestines into the blood stream. Pulses such as beans, peas and lentils are particularly high in this kind of fibre. Sweet potato, aubergine, okra (ladies’ fingers), broccoli, apples, strawberries and prunes are also good options.
Aim for: at least five portions of fruit and veg a day. An adult portion is around 80g, or a handful. Make at least one of these beans, peas or lentils.
Super food 6 – Foods rich in unsaturated fats
Cutting down on saturated fat is great way to lower your cholesterol and look after you heart. And it’s just as important to replace some of this with unsaturated fats.