Changing the foods that you ear can impact your cholesterol levels for better or worse. A diet high in red meats, empty carbohydrates, and dairy is known to increase cholesterol levels. At the same time high fiber foods, fish, nuts, and a whole range of other healthy foods that lower cholesterol can reduce your bad cholesterol levels, improve your good cholesterol levels , and reduce the risks that are associated with high cholesterol.

In the following excerpt from the book The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods by James A Duke and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors discuss the foods that lower cholesterol, why they do, and some ways to include these foods in a healthy life.

High Cholesterol

Everyone worries about their cholesterol levels, but the reality is that high cholesterol levels won’t kill you. Heart disease will. The problem is that heart disease and cholesterol are inextricably linked, with one contributing to the other. If you have high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—the so-called bad cholesterol—you have more of those fatty compounds in your blood available for oxidation by free radicals, molecules produced as a by-product of energy production. Once oxidized, those little blood fats get sticky and are more likely to glom onto artery walls, beginning the gradual narrowing of your coronary arteries known as atherosclerosis. The key is to halt the process before it begins, keeping LDL cholesterol levels low. One way to do that is by increasing levels of another form of cholesterol—high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This form of cholesterol acts like a garbage truck in your blood system, picking up LDL and escorting it to the liver, where it can be processed for disposal.

These days, if you have high cholesterol, most doctors will immediately start you on a statin medication such as atorvastatin (Lipitor). These drugs work well when it comes to lowering blood cholesterol and possibly the risk of heart disease. But they are not benign. They carry their own risks, including memory problems, muscle aches and pains, and loss of a very important antioxidant in the heart called coenzyme Q10. That’s why I prefer to start with cholesterol-lowering foods; it’s amazing what they can do when it comes to reducing the numbers. And it doesn’t take much of a drop to get a big heart-healthy benefit. Each one percent drop in cholesterol levels may reduce your heart attack risk by 2 percent.

Healing Foods for High Cholesterol

Here are some foods that can give you a real boost in your fight against unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Almonds. Nuts may be high in fat, but they’re a great source of beneficial monounsaturated fat. That’s probably why people who eat a handful of nuts a day are less likely to be severely overweight than those who don’t. The high fat content helps fill you up— without filling you out. One study found that replacing half of your normal fats with fat from almond oil reduced total cholesterol levels by about 4 percent and LDL levels by about 6 percent in people with normal cholesterol levels.

Barley. If you’re feeling smug because you down a bowl of “heart-healthy” oatmeal every morning, I’ve got news for you: You may like barley even better. I suggest you cook up a pot of barley once a week, then have some as a side dish at dinner or sprinkle some nuts and cinnamon on top for a unique breakfast. Barley is one of the richest sources of beta-glucans, the plant components that also give oatmeal its cholesterol-reducing power. But a cup of barley can offer three times more beta-glucans than a cup of oatmeal. In fact, it’s so rich in cholesterol-lowering fiber that I don’t even mind if you mix a soft boiled egg with it, especially if you use eggs from free-range chickens.

Beans. Most if not all edible bean varieties pack a double whammy in terms of cholesterol control, with their fiber and lecithin, a plant-based fat that—believe it or not—is used in milk chocolate to keep the milk and chocolate from separating. It turns out that lecithin can also help lower cholesterol. The two together—fiber and lecithin—are probably behind beans’ amazing benefits when it comes to blood fats. One study found that just 11⁄2 cups of dried lentils or kidney beans a day could slash cholesterol levels by a whopping 19 percent! In another study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, substituting legumes for read meat for just three days lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Edamame. Of the many types of soy I have tried, these green soybeans are the most palatable. You just steam or boil them for about five minutes, sprinkle them with salt, and pop them out of the pod into your mouth. But let me warn you—they can be addictive, though that’s not such a bad thing given the huge declines in cholesterol levels studies find when soy protein is substituted for high-fat protein sources like most red meats. One 12-week study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, found that adding 30 grams of soy to the diet lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol, increased “good” HDL, and lowered triglycerides, another heart-hurting blood fat. You can get 30 grams a day of soy by having soy milk with breakfast cereal (six grams), a snack of soy nuts (11 grams), and a dinner with stir-fry tofu (13 grams)

Oatmeal. Don’t nix oatmeal altogether. The protein in oats (yes, oats have protein!) is a good source of the amino acid L-arginine, from which your body eventually produces nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has many jobs to do in keeping your heart healthy, including reducing oxidation and inflammation. Although arginine may help treat high blood pressure and other markers of heart disease, some research finds it also helps reduce cholesterol. In one study, 45 healthy elderly volunteers took either an arginine supplement or a placebo for two weeks. Those taking the supplement showed significant drops in their total and LDL cholesterol levels, but those taking a placebo experienced no change.

By the way, peanuts are another rich source of arginine, as are seeds such as pine nuts, black cumin, butternut, watermelon, pumpkin, sesame, and soy.

Cholesterol-Dropping Hummus

Drain and rinse a couple of cans of cannellini beans, then put them in a blender with a couple of garlic cloves, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Voilà! Cholesterol medicine in a dip. The beans are a fantastic source of fiber, which binds to cholesterol in the gut and helps escort it out of your body, while garlic has long been known for its cholesterol-reducing benefits. Studies find garlic can drop cholesterol levels by 4 to 12 percent.

Olive oil. This oil is another of the richest sources of monounsaturated fatty acids. It’s also one main reason for the healthy hearts of those who follow a Mediterranean diet. I think it’s a must if you’re trying to keep your cholesterol levels within a healthy range, and studies support my thinking. Just use it in place of butter or other oils for everything from sautéing to dipping bread.

Avocados. I hope you don’t limit these fruits to just the Super Bowl and guacamole. Avocados are packed with healthy monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil. When researchers had 45 people, 30 of whom had high cholesterol, add an avocado a day to their diets for one week, the healthy volunteers’ total cholesterol levels dropped by 16 percent, while those with high cholesterol saw their levels drop by 17 percent. LDL and triglyceride readings fell by 22 percent each, and HDL cholesterol levels jumped by 11 percent. A control group that didn’t eat avocados had no change in their cholesterol levels. In another study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, adding an avocado a day to the diet lowered all those blood fats—and also lowered the number of LDL particles, which cardiologists now say is the biggest risk factor in whether or not you’ll have a heart attack.

Carrots. Carrots (along with apples and the rind of oranges and grapefruits) are high in a form of fiber called calcium pectate, or pectin. You may know it as the powder you add to homemade jams and jellies. Mixed with liquid, it turns into a gel that’s high in a soluble fiber that studies find can help reduce cholesterol. It seems that pectin binds to bile acids in the gut, which helps transport cholesterol out of your body. As for the car rots—well, I like to cite a favorite Scottish study in which participants snacked on two carrots a day for 3 weeks and saw their cholesterol levels plummet by 10 to 20 percent! A study we did at the USDA found similar results. These are drops you’d be lucky to get with statins. So you decide: Carrots or a pill? Chocolate. Cocoa-rich dark chocolate—loaded with flavonoids, a powerful antioxidant—can effectively lower cholesterol. In a six-month study by Mexican researchers, 84 people were divided into two groups, eating either two grams of dark chocolate daily, with 70% flavonoids, or milk chocolate, with none. LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides plummeted in the dark chocolate group—but there was no effect in the milk chocolate group. And in a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, people who ate dark chocolate and almonds had more than double the decrease in small dense LDL particles (the most dangerous kind) compared to people who ate an “average” American diet. I recommend one to two ounces of dark chocolate— with a least 70% cocoa—daily.


It’s not the cholesterol in eggs and shell fish you should worry about if you have high cholesterol but rather the saturated fat in red meat and full-fat dairy products. That’s what turns into LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream, and that’s why diets low in this type of fat are so important if you have high cholesterol.

Cinnamon. The cinnamon that I often suggest folks sprinkle on their barley or oatmeal breakfast has its own cholesterol-reducing benefits. About 1⁄2 tablespoon a day slashed LDL cholesterol levels by nearly a third in one study, cutting total cholesterol by 26 percent. Try putting a sprinkling of cinnamon in your coffee before brewing. It also makes a pretty good tea, either on its own or with fenugreek.

Cranberries. This fruit is good for more than just holiday meals and preventing urinary tract infections. Not only are cranberries (and cranberry juice) one of the best sources of antioxidants around but they also yield extracted chemicals that can increase the amount of cholesterol your liver takes out of your bloodstream. Once in the liver, that cholesterol can be processed for removal from your body.

Orange juice. In addition to eating an orange (including the white part so you get that valuable pectin), swig a glass of orange juice. In a study published in Lipids in Health and Disease, researchers studied two groups who worked at an orange juice factory, where they had free access to orange juice—one group drank two cups per day for a year, and one group didn’t drink any. The total cholesterol of the juice drinkers was 11 percent lower. Their “bad” LDL cholesterol was 18 percent lower. And their apolipoprotein B (particles of cholesterol that are also a risk factor for heart attack and stroke) was 12 percent lower. Plus, they had a 16 percent lower LDL/HDL ratio, a good thing when it comes to cholesterol.

If you’re not an orange juice person, you can try apples. A study found that either eating two apples or drinking 12 ounces of apple juice daily significantly reduced LDL oxidation.

Peanuts. Just an ounce of peanuts a day will provide a good amount of the coenzyme Q10 I mentioned earlier. Studies find that supplementing daily with about 120 milligrams of the enzyme can increase HDL cholesterol and reduce a form of dangerous cholesterol called lipoprotein(a), which significantly contributes to heart disease.

Tea. Black or green—it doesn’t seem to matter. A study published in Clinical Nutrition showed that people who regularly drink black tea have much lower LDL cholesterol than those who don’t. Similarly, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that green tea drinkers have lower LDL and triglycerides than people who don’t drink green tea. Aim for about five cups a day; a government study found that after three weeks of drinking this amount, total cholesterol dropped by 6.5 percent and LDL cholesterol by 11.1 percent.

From the Herbal Medicine Chest

You may be getting this herb in food if you eat a lot of Indian cuisine; otherwise, it probably doesn’t hold a prominent place in your spice rack. But I recommend you pick up a bottle of fenugreek seeds or supplements. Studies find that chewing an ounce of seeds three times a day can reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels without negatively affecting HDL levels. Fenugreek stimulates the formation of bile in your liver, which binds to cholesterol and escorts it out of your body so it can’t be released into the bloodstream. The seeds can be bitter, however, so try soaking them overnight or just rinsing them with running water to reduce the bitterness.

For additional advice on how food can help to heal many common health conditions, purchase The Green Pharmacy from

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