Clinical guidance

Heart-healthy Foods for Lower Cholesterol

Published January 1, 2022

What to eat

The short version: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

That will get you far. It also helps to choose:

  • Foods packed with fiber. Beans, oats, and of course, more fruits and veggies all fit the bill here.
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Think about having salmon, herring, or tuna 2 times a week. Use olive oil instead of butter. And sprinkle flaxseed on your oatmeal. 
  • Nuts. Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and other nuts can lower your cholesterol and risk of heart attack.

What to cut back on

You don’t have to totally avoid these foods, but it really helps to limit:

  • Carbohydrates, especially when they’re not whole grains
  • Sweets and really, any processed foods
  • Saturated fat, which you find in red meat, butter, fried foods, and cheese

Let’s talk about eggs

The bottom line with eggs is that they’re OK. Really. Just don't overdo it. They’re a good protein and won’t make a big difference in your cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are the much bigger issue.

Can supplements lower cholesterol?

A few might be able to, but it’s not clear that they help with heart disease. Plus, the rules and laws around supplements are loose, so you can’t always be sure what’s really in them. If you want to try a supplement, go with one of these:

  • Red yeast rice, which has an ingredient found in cholesterol medication. But you don’t know how much it has. So, a prescription might be a better choice. Check with your care team.
  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, such as flaxseed supplements or fish oil.

It’s best to avoid other supplements. There’s just no evidence that they lower cholesterol.

What about designer foods?

You might see food labels shouting about "sterols" or "stanols" and how they can lower your cholesterol. Both ingredients come from plants and you'll find them in margarines like Promise Activ. Our stance? Don’t buy the hype. They may lower your numbers, but it’s not clear how safe they are or if they really improve heart health.