Everything you need to know about which foods can lower your cholesterol and what you need to eat
Cholesterol often gets a bad rap, but your body does need some of it to carry out important tasks such as making hormones and keeping your organs working. However, if levels are too high problems can arise, so it’s important to be in the know.
There are two main types of cholesterol. One of them is low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is known as the unhealthy kind, often referred to as ‘bad’. LDL can build up in your arteries and form fatty deposits called plaques. The other one is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is classed as the healthy kind of cholesterol and often referred to as ‘good’. It transports excess cholesterol out of your arteries to your liver, which then removes it from your body.
However, don’t be taken in entirely by the ‘good’ label. A new study from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health has found that, for menopausal women, a high level of either type isn’t great. The study, published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, shows that around the time of menopause, a high overall HDL level could be masking a higher risk of heart disease, meaning that lowering overall cholesterol is key. Dietary habits have a huge influence on this and certain foods have even been shown to reduce cholesterol, so can be used alongside medication or as a natural approach to the issue.
What to eat to lower cholesterol naturally
Follow our guide to find out about the foods that can help.
Go nuts for… nuts
‘Almonds, pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts; there’s plenty of variety to choose from,’ says nutritionist Rob Hobson (healthspan.co.uk). ‘As well as being low in saturated fats, nuts contain a range of beneficial health properties that may help to lower cholesterol. Research has indicated that, as part of a balanced diet, nuts can successfully lower blood lipid levels.’
Snack on sunflower seeds
‘Sunflower seeds are great to snack on when you’re feeling a bit peckish and they’re rich in vitamin E, selenium and essential fatty acids,’ says nutritionist Emma Thornton (avogel.co.uk). ‘They can also help to combat inflammation. Research has shown that sunflower seeds can help to reduce hypertension and balance your cholesterol due to their high phytosterol content. These are plant sterols which help lower overall cholesterol levels and so reduce your risk of heart disease.’
Tuck in to artichoke
‘You might not immediately think of the humble artichoke as a cholesterol buster, but this powerful plant has a myriad of health benefits,’ says Emma. ‘It’s extremely high in antioxidants, rivalling blueberries and cranberries, and is rich in dietary fibre too. Artichokes also contain a substance known as cynarin, which can help to promote the production of bile, which is essential for fat absorption from the body. Over the years, numerous studies have shown that artichoke leaf extract – when taken regularly over a period of weeks – has been proven to reduce LDL cholesterol by 20 per cent.’ Try A.Vogel Artichoke Cynara Drops (£10.50, avogel.co.uk).
Tee up the tomatoes
‘Locked away in tomato skins is a powerful plant pigment called lycopene, which can lower cholesterol and reduce hardening and furring up of the arteries,’ says Dr Brewer. ‘Cooking tomatoes releases the lycopene so it becomes five times more powerful. Results from 12 trials suggest that taking lycopene in doses of at least 25mg per day reduces cholesterol by around 10 per cent.’
Gorge on garlic
‘As well as making meals taste simply delicious, garlic contains powerful antioxidants, including allicin, which gives crushed garlic its characteristic smell,’ says Dr Brewer. ‘Allicin both reduces cholesterol production in your liver and acts on cell receptors to reduce the uptake of cholesterol. Data from 39 clinical trials, involving more than 2,000 adults, showed that garlic extracts can lower cholesterol by 10 per cent if taken for two months or more.’
Feast on oily fish
‘Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout are rich in omega-3 fatty acids,’ says Emma. ‘These fats can help reduce triglycerides in your bloodstream. Triglycerides are a type of fat lipid that can increase your risk of heart disease. Oily fish can help to reduce these triglycerides and even slow down the development of plaques in your arteries. That, combined with their natural anti-inflammatory action, makes oily fish a valuable tool in your dietary arsenal!’