Your body naturally makes cholesterol and also takes it from food. Good cholesterol foods have the ability to lower LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) levels or increase HDL (“good” cholesterol) in your body.
How Good Cholesterol Foods Work
Some foods lower cholesterol because of the way they interact with the body. Foods with polyunsaturated fats, for instance, directly lower LDL levels. Foods containing soluble fiber bind cholesterol with proteins, which travel to the liver and allow your body to prevent its absorption. Eating 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber per day may help you decrease LDL and total cholesterol. Here’s a “Top 10” list to help you choose the best foods for maintaining healthy levels.
Top 10 Good Cholesterol Foods
Oats are a good source of soluble fiber, which reduces your body’s ability to absorb cholesterol. As little as 1 ½ cups of cooked oatmeal has 6 grams of fiber.
Like oats, whole-grain barley is packed with soluble fiber. Half a cup of cooked barley has 3 grams of dietary fiber.
Beans are rich in soluble fiber. Depending on the type of cooked bean you eat, half a cup can have between 6 and 9 grams.
4. Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Fatty fish, like salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acids that help increase HDL levels, while lowering LDL levels and triglycerides in the blood.
Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, nuts can help reduce blood cholesterol. Consuming as little as 2 ounces per day can lower your LDL level by up to 5 percent, according to the Harvard Medical School1.
6. Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables that are nutrient-rich, “good” cholesterol foods complement a heart-healthy diet. These include green peas, pears, mixed vegetables and leafy greens.
7. Olive oil
Olive oil, particularly extra-virgin olive oil, is full of antioxidants that lower LDL cholesterol levels. You only need 2 tablespoons a day to reap the health benefits, according to the Mayo Clinic2.
8. High-pectin fruits
Fruits like bananas, apples and citrus contain high levels of pectin. When pectin binds to cholesterol, it becomes a soluble fiber and prevents cholesterol absorption3.
9. Foods with plant stanols or sterols
Plant sterols and stanols make it more difficult for the body to absorb the cholesterol in food, and can lower LDL cholesterol levels by up to 10 percent. While small amounts are found naturally in foods like wheat germ, wheat bran, peanuts, almonds, brussel sprouts and some vegetable oils, stanols and sterols are often used to fortify common foods, such as some margarines and orange juices.
Soy products are high in dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Whole soybeans, tofu and soy beverages are good choices to include in your diet.
Lowering your blood cholesterol doesn’t mean you have to give up on tasty foods. Incorporating these ten good cholesterol foods is a healthy way to add variety to your diet without sacrificing flavor. If you’re watching your cholesterol, be sure to talk to your physician or a registered nutritionist about your diet. He or she may have other suggestions to add to this list as well as foods to avoid to help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
2 Mayo Clinic. Cholesterol: Top 5 Foods to Lower Your Numbers. Disease and Conditions: Cholesterol. July 27, 2012. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/cholesterol/art-20045192?pg=1. Accessed February 24, 2015.
3 Sriamornsak P. Chemistry of Pectin and Its Pharmaceutical Uses: A Review. Silpakorn University Science and Technology Journal. January to December 2003. http://www.journal.su.ac.th/index.php/suij/article/viewFile/56/37. Accessed February 24, 2015.