Did your latest blood work show high cholesterol numbers? Adding these foods to your diet may help lower that number naturally.

By Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
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New research continues to shape our knowledge when it comes to heart health, cholesterol, and diet. This means that recommendations evolve — and they change slowly too. It can leave each of us wondering what foods are really best for lowering cholesterol and blood lipids. Can oats really improve your heart health? Can beans protect your ticker?

We're simplifying the science by sharing nine foods that research suggests (and continues to support) naturally lower cholesterol. Check them out, and then look for ways to incorporate a few into your favorite heart-healthy recipes.

1. Lima Beans

A half cup of lima beans packs in 6.5 grams of total fiber; soluble fiber makes up over half of that. This is key since soluble fiber decreases total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL — the "bad" kind) cholesterol levels by forming a gel in the intestines to block fat and cholesterol absorption. Not a lima bean fan? That's OK. All beans and peas contain some soluble fiber, so aim to get at least three cups of beans and peas each week. Search our best lima beans recipes.

2. Pears

Pectin is a type of soluble fiber found predominantly in the skin and flesh of fruit, and it's one of the reasons that recommendations advise eating fruit, rather than drinking it. While all fruits have pectin, pears are at the top. One medium pear boasts two grams of soluble fiber and four grams of total fiber. The next best is a medium orange or a grapefruit half which has has two grams soluble fiber and two to three grams total fiber. Pears are also one of 10 foods that help you poop.

3. Steel-Cut or Rolled Oats

Eating a bowl of oatmeal made from less processed oats is one of the best ways to start your day to lower cholesterol. This is because oats are rich in beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber found primarily in oats and barley. Beta-glucan is particularly powerful at lowering total and LDL cholesterol levels. To get the most benefit, skip instant oats, and opt for whole oats that are labeled steel-cut or rolled. These oatmeal recipes will mix up your morning routine.

4. Salmon and Tuna

Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids found primarily in fish work to lower triglycerides and may even increase high-density lipoproteins (HDL or "good") cholesterol. These omega-3s also slow the progression of plaque build-up in arteries thanks to their anti-inflammatory effects. That's another reason why health recommendations advise eating two to three servings of omega-3-rich fish a week. Good sources that are also low in mercury include salmon, canned light tuna, catfish, pollock, sardines, and anchovies.

5. Edamame

Edamame or immature soybeans are an easy and delicious way to work more soy into your diet. This is important because soybeans contain isoflavones. Research suggests these compounds lend a powerful hand to potentially lowering cholesterol, especially when compared to non-soy legumes and beans. Eat them steamed straight from the pod or shelled, seasoned and toasted. Another route to get more soy is to incorporate tofu into your diet in place of animal proteins.

6. Walnuts

Swapping your regular afternoon snack for one to two ounces of nuts each day not only decreases heart disease risk, but it also improves cholesterol numbers. In fact, numerous studies suggest that eating a nut like walnuts each day significantly reduces both total and LDL cholesterol. Partial to another nut? Tree nuts like almonds and pistachios, as well as peanuts, appear to offer similar cholesterol-lowering benefits.

Related: 5 Surprising Facts About Nuts

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Get the Recipe: Instant Pot Roasted Brussels Sprouts

7. Brussels Sprouts

Even if they're not your favorite, adding Brussels sprouts to your plate isn't a bad idea. These cruciferous vegetables offer three grams of soluble fiber and 4.5 grams of total fiber per half cup, which assist in pulling down cholesterol numbers. In addition, they're a great source of antioxidant compounds that may help prevent LDL oxidation. For those who aren't a fan of the veggie at all, choose another cruciferous vegetable like broccoli, cauliflower, or kale.

8. Avocado

Cutting back on total fat may have been the focus in past decades, but today we know that it is the type of fat that matters most when it comes to reducing heart disease risk. And avocados are a great way to add healthy, monounsaturated fats since they are also rich in fiber and the antioxidant Vitamin E. Slice or cube ripe avocado to add to a sandwich or salad; mash it to use as a spread in place of mayo or make a quick guacamole.

Related: 11 Surprising Ways to Win with Avocado

9. Flax Seeds

Flax seeds are one of the best sources of plant lignans, a unique type of fiber that's not widespread in foods, as well as bioactive polyphenols and an omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Incorporating a little flax seed is considered one of the most beneficial foods to add for heart health to improve lipids because of this powerful nutrient combination. Unsure how to add it or what to do with it? Try sprinkling a little ground into smoothies or hot oatmeal.

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Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is author to the new cookbook, Meals That Heal: 100+ Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert known for ability to simplify food and nutrition information. She received a 2017 James Beard Journalism award, and her work is regularly featured in or on respective websites for Cooking Light, RealSimpleParentsHealthEatingWell, Allrecipes, My Fitness Pal, eMeals, Rally Health, and the American Heart Association. You can follower on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or on carolynwilliamsrd.com.

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