February 12, 2024 4 min read

Written by: Autumn Enloe, MS, RD, LD, CLT

    Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide (1). 

    In fact, approximately 610,000 people die of heart disease every single year. That’s one in four deaths (2).  

    Fortunately, there are many lifestyle and dietary changes you can incorporate today that can help support your health. 

    Cholesterol Basics

    Cholesterol is a waxy substance in our body’s cells that's necessary for our bodies to function properly (3). 

    There are three types of cholesterol. These include:

    •High-density lipoprotein (or HDL)
    •Low-density lipoprotein (or LDL)
    •Very low-density lipoprotein (or VLDL)

    Having an elevated low-density lipoprotein (or LDL) or very low-density lipoprotein (or VLDL) is associated with an increase in heart disease. That’s because these types of cholesterol cause the build-up of fatty deposits in your arteries, which blocks or reduces blood flow and oxygen to the heart (4). 

    High-density lipoproteins (or HDL) on the other hand, are considered the “heart-healthy” fat because it helps remove cholesterol from the bloodstream. Higher levels of HDL are associated with a lower risk of heart disease (5). 


    10 Best Cholesterol-Lowering Foods

    Eating a healthy diet is key to reducing your risk of heart disease and lowering your cholesterol. The following are ten foods that can help lower your cholesterol today.  

    1. Dark Leafy Greens such as kale, broccoli, spinach, and Brussel sprouts help bind to bile acids and excrete more cholesterol from the body (6).  

    How to use it: Use greens in salads, scrambled eggs, or smoothies.

    2. Berries including blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries contain phytochemicals that can help decrease the risk of health complications (7). 

    How to use it: Top plain yogurt with berries, or have as a snack with some nuts.

    3. Avocados have been shown to increase HDL values, and also decrease LDL and triglycerides when avocados were used in place of other dietary fats (8,9). 

    How to use it: Top salads with avocado or use in replace of butter.

    4. Fatty Fish is a staple of the well-researched Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to improve heart health and increase longevity (10,11). 

    How to use it:  Add fatty fish such as salmon or tuna into your weekly menu at least twice per week. 

    5. Garlic contains antioxidants that research has found to decrease in triglycerides and LDL levels (12,13). 

    How to use it: Add garlic to sauces, soups, or meats. 

    6. Oats contain beta-glucan which has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. In fact, consuming just 3 grams per day can decrease LDL by 3-5% (14).

    How to use it: Make a balanced oatmeal bowl with oats, nut butter, and plain yogurt. 

    7. Cocoa Powder has been shown to lower LDL and increase HDL due to the polyphenols it contains (15). 

    How to use it: Use to flavor smoothies or sprinkle on top of fruit.

    8. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil has been shown to support heart health. In fact, one study with over 7,000 participants found that supplementing with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the risk for major cardiovascular events (16).

    How to use it: Use for homemade salad dressings, or for low-heat cooking.

    9. Walnuts contain a nutrient called alpha-linoleic acid which helps fight off inflammation in the body. Additionally, studies have found that daily nut consumption can decrease LDL cholesterol values (17,18). 

    How to use it: Top walnuts on salads or bake low-sugar muffins with them.

    10. Chia Seeds are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to reduce elevated triglyceride levels (19). 

    How to use it: Sprinkle on top of yogurt, oatmeal, or add to smoothies.

    BONUS: 3 Foods to Avoid

    1. Fried Foods such as French fries, fried meats, cheese curds, and donuts have been associated with an increase in waist circumference, and a decrease in HDL levels (20). 

    2. Processed Meats found in foods such as salami, hot dogs, sausage, pepperoni, and deli meats have been associated with a variety of health conditions (21). 

    3. Products with High-Fructose Corn Syrup such as soda, candy, sweetened yogurt, salad dressings, juice, and breads are associated with decreased heart health. In fact, one study found that consuming large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup for just two weeks increased risk by 25% (22). 


    Other Ways to Improve Cholesterol

    Along with incorporating the ten cholesterol-lowering foods, and eliminating the three foods listed above, there are also other ways to improve cholesterol values.

    Those include (23):

    •Eliminating trans fats: the most harmful type of fat that is found in many processed foods.
    •Eating more fiber: Aim for a minimum of 25 grams of fiber each day. 
    •Moving your body daily: Incorporate movement into your day for at least 30 minutes. This can be divided into 3-10 minute increments. 
    •Quitting smoking: This can quickly help improve your HDL value, and within one year of quitting, chances for developing heart disease are cut in half. 
    •Losing weight: Excess weight can increase the risk of heart disease.



        High cholesterol can increase the risk of developing heart disease. 

        Fortunately, there’s a variety of lifestyle and dietary changes that can help improve your cholesterol and heart health. 

        Try incorporating these ten cholesterol-lowering foods while eliminating the top three harmful foods to improve your health today.  


        Autumn Enloe, MS, RD, LD, CLT
        Autumn Enloe is a registered dietitian in Minnesota. She has a private practice where she focuses on helping women take care of themselves through proper nutrition, supplement and lifestyle adjustments. She provides remote nutrition coaching and frequently posts free nutrition content and recipes at her website: www.autumnenloe.com

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