5 foods you didn’t know can help cut cholesterol

By Alistair Gardiner
Published January 11, 2021

Key Takeaways

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the CDC. And while COVID-19 is climbing upward in the ranking—killing between 316,00 and 432,000 Americans in 2020, according to provisional CDC data—heart disease takes the lives of more than 650,000 people annually in this country. 

We know that high cholesterol is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, and most of us are aware of the foods we need to limit in order to lower cholesterol—fatty meats like bacon, eggs, and full-fat dairy products. But on the flip side, what about foods that can help you lower cholesterol?

Keep in mind there are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL). LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it can build up on artery walls and lead to a heart attack or stroke. HDL, on the other hand, is often referred to as the “good” cholesterol, because it can help remove LDL from your bloodstream and transfer it to the liver where it’s broken down. The route to good health, therefore, is to limit foods that result in LDL cholesterol build-up and try to pack foods into your diet that provide more HDL cholesterol.

Of course, there are the obvious ones. By now, you probably don’t need studies to convince you that sticking to a diet high in vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, and berries, can help reduce cholesterol levels.

But here are five foods that you may not be aware can help keep cholesterol low and protect you against cardiovascular disease.


Good news: That piece of chocolate you’re sneaking after dinner may actually benefit your heart health. That’s according to research published in the British Journal of Nutrition, which says that chocolate contains numerous components, especially flavanols, that may play a role in good cardiovascular health.  

“The scientific data indicating that cocoa flavanols may make an important contribution to cardiovascular health continues to grow rapidly,” wrote the authors. “Our findings extend favourable associations of chocolate intake with cardiometabolic factors and add evidence for an inverse association between daily chocolate consumption and insulin sensitivity.”

Cocoa products are rich in flavonoids, which belong to a group of compounds called polyphenols that help reduce blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Research published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine (FRBM) showed that the polyphenols in cocoa may increase levels of “good” cholesterol. 

If you’re a chocolate-lover, however, you’ll probably need to start paying attention to what kind of chocolate you’re consuming. The FRBM study compared the effects of consuming white and dark chocolate, and found that the white chocolate resulted in a slight decrease in HDL cholesterol, while dark chocolate led to an increase in levels of HDL cholesterol.

This is supported by numerous other studies, which concluded that moderate amounts of specifically dark chocolate—which tend to have a lower sugar content and a higher cocoa content—can help lower your risks of cardiovascular disease.


There are plenty of reasons to add more garlic to your meals. Beyond the extra flavor, various studies show that garlic consumption may help protect against cardiovascular disease.  

Researchers have found that garlic helps to reduce LDL cholesterol, combats hypertension by reducing blood pressure, and inhibits platelet aggregation, all of which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. One review of studies concluded that garlic supplements could be considered a complementary treatment option for hypertension or slightly elevated cholesterol, and as a stimulation for immunity.

The best part? You may not even need to increase your garlic intake by that much to reap the rewards. One study showed that eating between half and one full clove of garlic per day may reduce cholesterol levels by around 10%.


When it comes to reducing cholesterol, pulses may be your new best friend. Not only are the likes of chickpeas, lentils, and dry peas high in protein, research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests they can be used as a way to improve blood health.

The review of 26 dietary studies analyzed the effects of pulse consumption on lipid levels in an effort to discern if they have an impact on cardiovascular outcomes. Researchers found that diets emphasizing pulse intake, at an average rate of about 130 grams per day, had significantly lower LDL cholesterol levels. The review’s authors concluded that adding pulses to your diet can help reduce cholesterol levels.

Another review of 21 trials, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed the effectiveness of adding more pulses to your diet to weight loss. Researchers found that one serving of pulses per day led to significant weight reduction in participants over the course of 6 weeks. Findings from some of the trials suggested that pulse intake was also related to a reduction in body fat. Given that obesity is a risk factor in several diseases, including heart disease, the evidence indicates that pulses could be protective.


The various health benefits of tea are often discussed, but did you know that research indicates that drinking tea could help lower cholesterol levels?

The key ingredients here are catechins, a type of flavonoid and antioxidant found in tea. Research published in Europe PMC, and conducted on rats, has shown that tea catechins can help to reduce blood cholesterol levels and decrease the accumulation of cholesterol in places like the liver and heart. Researchers found that the catechins may interfere with the emulsification, hydrolysis, and micellar solubilization of lipids. 

This may explain why in human studies, green tea consumption has been associated with lower rates of LDL cholesterol, according to the Europe PMC article. As such, researchers hypothesize that green tea could help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  

Eggplant and okra

For some, these may seem like unusual vegetable choices, but eggplant and okra are low-calorie sources of soluble fiber, which may help to lower cholesterol. According to some research, these kinds of viscous fibers can help reduce total cholesterol levels by 3%-7%.

Additionally, studies have found that both the seed and skin of okra may help fight cholesterol. One study found that the addition of okra seed supplements was associated with a significant reduction of LDL cholesterol in rats. Another study concluded that okra skin extract exhibited cholesterol-lowering activities by working to delay its absorption by the body. 

Research on animals has indicated that eggplant can also help regulate cholesterol levels.  

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