Top Superfoods for Lowering Cholesterol

Photo of a woman chopping walnuts on a wooden cutting board
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All foods provide our bodies with energy, but so-called "superfoods" have the added potential of helping protect against disease. Here are some top superfoods to lower cholesterol, plus tips on how to incorporate them into your diet.

Oatmeal

Why It's a Superfood: Whole grain oats contain cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. Multiple studies have shown that the β-glucan (fiber) in whole oats can help to lower LDL cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol, and may be helpful in the reduction of risk for cardiovascular disease.

Grocery Tip: You no longer have to rely on slow-cooking varieties to get the most nutritious oatmeal. There are now many whole grain instant brands available at your local grocery store. Be sure to look for whole-grain rolled oats as the first ingredient.

Preparation Tip: Sprinkle your oatmeal with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon for an added nutrition boost as cinnamon appears to lower average blood glucose levels and may reduce disease-causing inflammation.

Legumes (Beans, Lentils, and Chickpeas)

Why They're Superfoods: Legumes are an excellent source of fiber and serve as a great substitute for meat in many dishes.

Grocery Tip: If you like the convenience of canned beans and legumes, but dislike the added sodium (or need to reduce sodium, per your doctor), you can easily reduce the amount of salt simply by washing the contents in a strainer under running water.

Preparation Tip: beans, lentils, and legumes are a fantastic way to add fiber to any meal and make a tasty addition to soups, stews, and salads. You can add a 1/4 teaspoon paprika and cayenne to hummus (ground chickpeas) for a zesty nutrient bonus.

Avocado

Why It's a Superfood: Don't let the total fat grams in avocado scare you. The fat found in avocado is monounsaturated fat, which is considered to be mostly "good" fat. Some studies have shown that including avocados in a cholesterol-lowering diet may provide additional benefits. Although not all researchers agree on the extent of the benefits. It should be noted that many studies promoting the benefits of avocado are funded by the industry that grows them. While most studies support the fact that avocados are likely to improve cholesterol levels, researchers have said that the link between avocado consumption and heart health needs further research.

Grocery Tip: "Should I purchase a ripe or non-ripe avocado?" It varies depending on the type. For Hass or Argentinean avocados: Look for all black, firm avocados with a slightly soft top. These should be used shortly after purchase. If the avocado is already soft and gives to pressure, it will likely be over-ripe by the time you prepare your dish.

Floridian/Fuerte Avocados: It is best to purchase the firmest avocado you can find, and wait several days for it to ripen before using. If you are in a hurry to ripen the avocado you can place it in a paper bag at room temperature to speed the process.

Preparation Tip: Homemade guacamole is a great complement to any meal.

Salmon

Why It's a Superfood: Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fats, a type of good fat believed to improve cholesterol and that many Americans don't get enough of.

Wild or Farmed? Both wild and farmed salmon contain some amount of heart-healthy omega-3. The consensus of nutrition researchers is that the benefits of consuming wild or farmed salmon, outweigh any potential risk of mercury or PCB contamination for heart health.

Preparation Tip: Cook double portions of salmon for dinner, and save half to top a delicious salad for the next day's lunch. Experiment with spicy mustards and sliced almonds for a delicious topping.

Walnuts

Why It's a Superfood: Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids.

Grocery Tip: Be sure to look for unsalted, raw walnuts, rather than mixed nut combinations, as they may contain higher sodium.

Preparation Tip: Walnuts can be easily heated when baked (350 F, 8 minutes), microwaved (5 minutes on medium-high), or skillet cooked (3 to 5 minutes on medium-high heat with a light coating of olive oil). Whichever method you chose, be certain to check on and stir frequently.

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  1. Ho HV, Sievenpiper JL, Zurbau A, et al. The effect of oat β-glucan on LDL-cholesterol, non-HDL-cholesterol and apoB for CVD risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials. Br J Nutr. 2016;116(8):1369-1382. doi:10.1017/S000711451600341X

  2. Wang L, Bordi PL, Fleming JA, Hill AM, Kris-Etherton PM. Effect of a moderate fat diet with and without avocados on lipoprotein particle number, size and subclasses in overweight and obese adults: a randomized, controlled trialJ Am Heart Assoc. 2015;4(1):e001355. Published 2015 Jan 7. doi:10.1161/JAHA.114.001355

  3. Mahmassani HA, Avendano EE, Raman G, Johnson EJ. Avocado consumption and risk factors for heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018;107(4):523-536. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqx078

  4. Yanai H, Masui Y, Katsuyama H, et al. An Improvement of Cardiovascular Risk Factors by Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty AcidsJ Clin Med Res. 2018;10(4):281–289. doi:10.14740%2Fjocmr3362w

Additional Reading
  • Andon M. The Oatmeal-Cholesterol Connection: 10 Years Later. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, Vol. 2, No. 1, 51-57. 2008.
  • Lopez LLedesma R, Frati Munari AC, Hernandez Dominguez BC, et al. Monounsaturated fatty acid (avocado) rich diet for mild hypercholesterolemia. Archives of Medical Research. Winter;27(4):519-23 1996.
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