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7 foods that may lower your cholesterol

There’s good evidence that following a heart-healthy diet can improve your blood cholesterol and heart health. Find out which foods are best at helping to lower your cholesterol.

An assortment of low cholesterol foods displayed on a marble tabletop. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, salmon and chicken.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance in your blood which is produced naturally by your body. It’s also found in some foods like eggs, offal (such as kidney and liver) and shellfish. Your body needs some cholesterol for it to work properly.

When you have high cholesterol levels in the blood (also called hyperlipidemia), it speeds up the process of atherosclerosis. This is when plaque builds up in your artery walls, narrowing them. This makes it hard for blood to flow through them, and it can cause a heart attack or stroke over time.

Types of cholesterol

High cholesterol doesn’t show any symptoms. You need a blood test to find out if you have it. The blood test will tell you the levels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood (explained below).

Cholesterol is carried around the body by different ‘carriers’ (lipoproteins). The two most common are:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: the ‘bad’ cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is ‘bad’ because if you have too much, it gets stuck to the walls of your arteries
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: the ‘good’ cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is ‘good’ because it removes ‘bad’ cholesterol from your blood vessels.

Triglycerides are the most common form of fat in your body and store and transport fat in the blood. Any extra energy from food that your body doesn’t need is turned into triglycerides.

High total blood cholesterol is a measure of all the cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood and is a risk factor for developing heart disease.1

Can my diet help my cholesterol?

Eating certain foods can help improve your cholesterol and overall heart health.

The best place to start is to eat a wide variety of plant foods. These include:

  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • legumes
  • whole grains
  • nut
  • seeds.

Eating plant foods will help you get a range of nutrients, heart-healthy fats and fibre. These all promote optimal heart health.

7 foods that lower your cholesterol

Some foods can actively help to lower your cholesterol, and they all work in different ways. Try to include these foods in your meals whenever you can:

1. Oats and barley

Eating whole grain foods reduces your risk of heart disease. Oats and barley are extra special because they are high in a type of soluble fibre called 'beta glucan'. Beta glucan helps to lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol in your blood.2,3

Tip: Flavoured oat products like 'Quick Oats' often contain added salt and/or sugar. Choose products that contain 100% oats (like rolled oats) as they're closest to how they're found in nature.

A top-down view of a bowl of breakfast oats in a white bowl on a marble tabletop. Alongside is a white jug of milk and a small with bowl of fresh raspeberries.

2. Vegetables and fruit

Eating a variety of colourful vegetables and fruit daily can help protect you against heart disease, stroke and some cancers.4,5 Many vegetables and fruit are high in soluble fibre, which helps reduce cholesterol absorption and lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol in your blood.

Tip: Leave the skins on vegetables like pumpkin, kūmara and carrot to maximise your fibre intake. Use orange and lemon peel in dressings and sauces.

Ordered in the colour of the rainbow, a display of fruits and vegetables starting with red and ending in purple.

3. Foods rich in heart-healthy fats

Eating plenty of foods that contain heart-healthy mono and poly-unsaturated fats increases your blood's levels of 'good' HDL cholesterol. 

These foods contain heart-healthy fats.

  • Avocado
  • Oily fish like mackerel, sardines and salmon 
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Olives
  • Vegetable oils and spreads

Eating these foods instead of foods high in saturated fat (butter, cream, meat fats) improves your cholesterol. It'll reduce your risk of heart disease too.6

Tip: Coconut, palm oil and many convenience foods are high in saturated fat and increase your 'bad' LDL cholesterol. Switch to heart-healthy fats and whole foods where possible.

A display of foods on a wooden board. Olive oil in a glass jar, alongside salmon, various nuts and seeds plus avocado.

4. Legumes and beans

Legumes like chickpeas and lentils are great soluble fibre and plant-based protein sources. Eating legumes and beans instead of meat (animal protein) can help to lower your 'bad' LDL cholesterol.7

Tip: Choose canned legumes for a quick and easy option. Rinse and drain the salty brine before using them. Use them in salads, sauces, casseroles, and legume-based dips like hummus.

A colourful assortment of different types of legumes and beans presented on silver spoons.

5. Nuts

Nuts contain heart-healthy fats and fibre, which can help to keep your cholesterol in check. Regularly eating nuts is linked to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.8

Tip: Eating a variety of nuts is best because they contain different levels of healthy fats. Choose nuts close to how they’re found in nature because they contain more nutrients. Look for nuts that have skins on, are unsalted and unroasted.

A top-down view of eight different types of nuts displayed in wooden bowls of differing sizes. They sit on a wooden table top.

6. Soy products

Soy products include tofu, soy milk, soybeans and edamame beans. Some evidence shows that regularly eating soy products can help to reduce 'bad' LDL cholesterol and triglycerides slightly.7,9,10

Tip: Choose soy products close to how they are found in nature, like soybeans, plain unsweetened soy milk and unflavoured tofu.

Types of soy products including tofu, soy milk, edamame beans

7. Plant sterols

Low levels of plant sterols are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts and cereals. However, some foods (like margarine) have plant sterols added. Eating foods that contain plant sterols as part of a balanced diet can reduce 'bad' LDL cholesterol. This is because they reduce your absorption of cholesterol.11

Tip: Foods with plant sterols added are only effective if you eat them regularly. Remember that these foods are usually much more expensive than everyday foods, and your overall diet matters most.

Is there a quick fix to lower cholesterol?

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to lower cholesterol. No single food or meal will help to lower your cholesterol. Some people will need medication to manage high cholesterol, and others may see an improvement from lifestyle changes. Whatever the case, heart health is about consistently eating mostly heart-healthy foods and looking at the quality of your overall diet.


  1. Peters SA et al. Total cholesterol as a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke in women compared with men: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Atherosclerosis. 2016; 248:123-31.
  2. Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Systematic Review of the Evidence for a Relationship between Oats, Barley and their derived Beta-glucans on Blood Cholesterol Concentration.2015.
  3. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to oat beta glucan and lowering blood cholesterol and reduced risk of (coronary) heart disease pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. 2010.
  4. Wang X, Ouyang Y, Liu J et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. British Medical Journal. 2014;349:g4490.
  5. Aune D, Giovannucci E, Boffetta P et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality - a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2017;46(3):1029-1056.
  6. Schwab U et al. Effect of the amount and type of dietary fat on cardiometabolic risk factors and risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer: a systematic review. Food and Nutrition Research. 2014. 10;58.
  7. Siying S. Li et al.  Effect of Plant Protein on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2017.
  8. Del Gobbo LC et al. Effects of tree nuts on blood lipids, apolipoproteins, and blood pressure: systematic review, meta-analysis, and dose-response of 61 controlled intervention trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015. 102(6): 1347–1356.
  9. Benkhedda K et al. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Effects of Soy Products on Blood Cholesterol Levels. Nutrition. 2015.
  10. Tokede OA et al. Soya products and serum lipids: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Nutrition. 2015. 114:6;831-43.
  11. Ras RT et al. LDL-cholesterol-lowering effect of plant sterols and stanols across different dose ranges: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled studies. British Journal of Nutrition. 2014. 112:2;214-9.