As many as 75% of older adults in the UK have raised cholesterol levels. While recent research has questioned the link between high cholesterol and heart disease, the official NHS advice remains unchanged: lowering the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the body reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. Too much of the bad stuff causes fatty deposits to build up in the arteries, upping the risk.
Studies show you can lower the levels of bad cholesterol in your body by exercising regularly, stopping smoking and taking medication such as statins.
Diet-wise, cutting down on saturated fat should be your main priority but it's also helpful to chow down on cholesterol-lowering foods.
How to lower your cholesterol levels
Swapping your breakfast toast for a bowl of porridge could work wonders on your cholesterol levels. “Oats are wholegrains and contain a soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which can help lower your cholesterol levels if you have 3g or more of it daily, as part of a healthy diet,” says British Heart Foundation dietitian Victoria Taylor.
Studies show that 3g of buta-glucan a day contained in a large bowl of porridge can reduce LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 7%.
Find the best porridge recipes
A hearty low fat, low GI addition to a stew or soup, pearl barley is good for your ticker as well as your waistline.
Like oats, the healthy wholegrain is an excellent source of beta-glucan soluble fibre. Beta-glucan binds excess cholesterol, preventing it from being absorbed by the body, and stimulates the production of bile acids in the liver, which also lowers levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream. You can't go wrong.
Superfood carbs: ancient grains to try
Naturally low in fat, soy is a staple of Heart UK's Ultimate Cholesterol Lowering Plan, along with wholegrains, pulses, nuts and foods fortified with sterols and stanols. And for very good reason.
According to Heart UK, studies suggest you can reduce your cholesterol levels by around 6% if you include just 15g soy protein per day in your diet – that's around two glasses of soy milk, a small plate of tofu or a generous portion of edamame beans.
How to include tofu in your diet
Including a couple of handfuls of unsalted nuts a day in your diet is strongly recommended if you want to cut your risk of heart attack and stroke. A number of studies have concluded that a diet rich in nuts such as walnuts and almonds can lower LDL cholesterol levels by up to 10%.
“Nuts are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, soluble fibre and plant sterols, and can help to reduce both total and LDL cholesterol,” says dietitian Helen Bond.
10 healthy reasons to eat more nuts
It turns out an apple a day really can keep the doctor away. Apples are an excellent source of pectin, a soluble fibre that forms a gel when it comes in contact with water, making it a handy ingredient for jams and jellies.
In the body, this gel binds to excess cholesterol and stops it from being absorbed. In fact, a diet rich in pectin-containing foods may lower LDL cholesterol by as much as 10%.
Take a look at our delicious apple recipes
Like your baked beans, hummus and butter bean mash? You're in luck. Beans and other legumes such as lentils and peas are exceptionally high in fibre, both insoluble and soluble, which as we know, mops up excess cholesterol in the body, lowering overall levels of the bad stuff.
If your digestive system can handle it, upping your intake of beans in your diet is an easy way to reduce your LDL cholesterol.
How much fibre do you really need?
A diet high in saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood. Replacing these artery-clogging fats with heart-healthy monounsaturated alternatives can make all the difference to your IDL cholesterol levels.
Olive oil is a super-effective cholesterol-lowering fat but rapeseed oil contains more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fat, which is found in small quantities in most fats believe it or not. Use this oil when you can for cooking and salad dressings.
The health benefits of different edible oils
A recent US study reported that participants who ate one and a half avocados a day had significantly reduced total cholesterol levels – which comes as no surprise.
Avocados are loaded with heart-friendly monounsaturated fats that are proven to lower LDL cholesterol in the body, not to mention natural plant sterols, which research shows also help keep cholesterol levels in check.
Simple and delicious – avocado on toast
Spinach and other leafy greens like kale contain lutein, a carotenoid antioxidant that has been shown to lower levels of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream and prevent the fatty deposits accumulating in the arteries.
Spinach and similar leafy greens are also high in insoluble and soluble fibre, bolstering their cholesterol-busting prowess. To reap the benefits, aim for a portion of leafy greens as part of your five-a-day.
Visit our spinach recipe section for inspiration
Foods fortified with sterols and stanols
Plant sterols and stanols have been shown to lower cholesterol levels in scientific studies. Although the NHS states there is zero solid evidence they reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke, it's still worth including foods fortified with these substances in your diet, which form part of Heart UK's Ultimate Cholesterol Lowering Plan. Look out for fortified margarines, breakfast cereals and juices next time you do your food shopping. Find out more on the Heart UK website.
Foods engineered for health