What cholesterol-lowering foods work best?

Want to lower your cholesterol? Fortunately, there are lots of cholesterol-lowering foods you can easily add to your diet.

Cholesterol levels and blood fats such as triglycerides can creep up after eating fatty or sugary foods, increasing your risk of heart disease.

If you’ve had a few too many treats recently, or think you aren’t eating well enough, it might be time to get back on track.

With that in mind, we’ve listed our top foods to help you lower your cholesterol, which will improve your overall heart health.

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1. Update your breakfast choices

Reaching for the Vegemite toast each morning? Why not try some oats instead?

Oats are full of beta-glucan, a soluble fibre that has been shown to lower both total and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol.

If you’re trying to lower your cholesterol, eating oats in a tasty porridge or bircher muesli is a great way to start your day.

2. Add some beans

Beans and legumes pack a powerful punch when it comes to reducing cholesterol absorption.

Beans are rich in fibre, which helps you feel fuller for longer. Fibre-rich foods, like beans, can help improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and also help prevent some diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer.

Beans and legumes (or pulses) such as chickpeas and lentils are also a great source of soluble fibre. You can add them to a salad or cook up a simple curry. You can also include lentils, beans or chickpeas in soups, stews and pasta sauces.

If you’re looking for more specific ideas, the Australian Healthy Food Guide offers plenty of recipes, including this roasted sweet potato, lentil and broccoli salad.

3.Reduce the coconut oil

Coconut oil has been praised as a superfood in recent years, with claims that it’s a ‘good oil’ and healthy to consume in large amounts.

But according to the Heart Foundation, this isn’t true.

“Like butter, coconut oil is not a health food. Health food status is reserved for foods which are proven to promote health such as vegetables, legumes, fruit and nuts,” they say on their website.

Coconut oil is 92% saturated fat and, like other saturated fats, shouldn’t be eaten regularly. Olive and canola oils, along with spreads, avocados and nut butters, are far better alternatives.

4. Go nuts for nuts

Nuts are a good source of healthy (unsaturated) fats, fibre and plant sterols, which means they also help reduce cholesterol absorption.

Eating a handful or two (about 30g) of nuts each day has been shown to reduce both total and LDL cholesterol. Walnuts and almonds are recommended for their nutrient value. Other types of nuts are also good as occasional snacks, but always try to stick to unsalted, raw or dry-roasted nuts where you can.

Delicious foods to help lower your cholesterol

5. Be fish friendly

Some types of fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines, contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that help control cholesterol levels.

The Heart Foundation recommends eating two to three serves of fish, including oily fish, per week to reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.

Why don’t you try:

  • adding tinned tuna to a salad or sandwich at lunch
  • grilling or baking a fillet of fresh tuna or salmon for dinner a couple of times a week.

For more recipe ideas, take a look at The Heart Foundation’s seafood recipes.

6. Pare back processed meats

If you’re a fan of processed meats like salami or devon, brace yourself for some bad news.

Processed meats are high in saturated fat, so if you’re trying to lower your cholesterol try to limit yourself to no more than two servings per week.

Try to replace processed meats with lean proteins such as chicken breast or steak.

7. Tame the tipple

Alcohol is a big risk factor for high total and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. Its high kilojoule content is also a common cause of weight gain.

So, if you choose to drink, try to limit it to no more than two standard drinks a day.

If you want more information on how to reduce your alcohol intake, then look at this Alcohol Action Plan from The Heart Foundation or speak to your local doctor.

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8. Replace bad fats with good

According to the Heart Foundation’s recent review of dietary fats, when you’re trying to reduce fats in your diet you need to consider what you’re replacing them with.

For example, replacing saturated fat (such as pastry, processed meats and cakes) with refined carbohydrates (such as white bread and pasta) won’t reduce the risk of heart disease.

However, if you replace it with wholegrains, you will see a small improvement in some cardiovascular risk factors.

The best choice is to replace saturated fat with foods containing unsaturated fat, such as olives, nuts and seeds.

9. Get your portions right

If you consistently eat more kilojoules than you burn, your weight – and triglycerides – are likely to increase, placing you at increased risk of heart disease.

Getting your meal portions right can make a real difference to your health. Main meals are all about maximising nutrition while keeping kilojoules check.

Get the balance right when plating up meals at home with this simple rule of thumb:

  • ½ of your plate should be vegetables – think variety and colour
  • ¼ of your plate should be good-quality carbohydrates – such as potato, wholegrain pasta, brown rice, couscous, quinoa
  • ¼ of your plate should be lean protein, like lean meat, poultry, eggs or legumes.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines provide more detailed portion size recommendations for adults, adolescents and children.

Other things you can do

Here are also some other things you can do to help you reduce or manage your cholesterol.

Get moving

Having an inactive life is one of the risk factors for heart disease, so it’s vital to get up and get moving.

The Australian physical guidelines recommend adults aim to do 2.5–5 hours of moderate activity a week, and try to be active on most (if not all) days.

Any activity is better than none. And it’s fine to start small and work your way up.

Track your progress

As we all know, “what gets measured, gets managed”.

If you’re over 45 (or younger with a family history of heart disease), your doctor may recommend regular blood tests to monitor your cholesterol.

People on cholesterol-lowering medication may test their levels more regularly.

Final word

Heart disease symptoms often don’t appear until it’s too late. So it’s important to:

  • eat healthy foods
  • check your cholesterol levels regularly
  • have regular health checks with your GP if you have a family history of heart disease or other health concerns.

If you’d like more ideas on how to lower your cholesterol levels, you can find more information here:

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