When you see your doctor for a routine checkup, do you have blood drawn? Lab tests often include measurements of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) and HDL cholesterol (HDL-C). These blood lipids, in conjunction with other risk factors, are used to determine how vulnerable you may be to heart disease.
Eating to Lower Cholesterol Naturally:
Faced with high cholesterol, many people want to know how to lower it naturally. Frequently, healthcare providers advise following a diet low in saturated fat, limiting red meat and full-fat dairy products, based on recommendations from the American Heart Association.
Find the Best Breakfast to Control Your Cholesterol:
Some other dietary changes can also help lower cholesterol.
We heard from one reader who had unexpected success:
“For the past three years, my lab work revealed increasing cholesterol values. This culminated in a value of 217 in 2019. That’s not alarmingly high, but it was puzzling considering I’ve had a lifetime of trying to eat well.
“I decided to make a change in my diet, starting with the first meal of the day. Back in April, I changed my breakfast choices. Ten months ago, I began each day with a quarter cup of coarsely broken English walnuts, one cup of frozen blueberries, 1.25 cups of plain Cheerios, 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon with 8 to 9 ounces of 2 percent organic milk. All layered in a cereal bowl in that order.
The Doctor’s Delight:
“After nine months of enjoying this delicious and filling breakfast, I found myself in my GP’s office for my annual physical which included a CBC and Comprehensive Metabolic Panel. The doctor himself called me to share the results of the lab report. Much to his delight and mine, he said, ‘Your cholesterol is 170, down from the previous year’s 217. A whopping 47 points. What have you been doing?’
“I told him of my experience to get my cholesterol under control. Please share this to help any reader who may be struggling with his/her cholesterol. Diet choices for the remainder of the day certainly weigh into this equation, but since it was such a game changer for me, the best breakfast just might be helpful to others committed to making a positive change in their lab results. In addition to the drop in total cholesterol, my HDL-C was up and the LDL-C was lower.”
How the Best Breakfast Works:
The choices this reader made have been shown to benefit blood lipid levels. For example, consuming walnuts in place of saturated fats lowers total cholesterol and LDL-C (Journal of Nutrition, Apr. 1, 2020). So does including whole-grain oats in the diet (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Nov. 2020). Consequently, many people find that oatmeal is the basis of their best breakfast to control cholesterol.
Flaxseed has a similar effect, primarily in people whose blood lipids are high to begin with (International Journal of Angiology, Dec. 2020). A meta-analysis of 16 studies confirmed that cinnamon also lowers total and LDL cholesterol (Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Dec. 2020).
Beyond Breakfast–A Dietary Portfolio to Lower Cholesterol:
Canadian scientists have tested a vegetarian diet with lots of soluble fiber and found that it lowers cholesterol effectively (JAMA, July 23, 2003). They compared a cholesterol-lowering dietary portfolio to a standard low-fat diet or to the low-fat diet plus lovastatin. People using the dietary portfolio ate soy protein, plant sterols (in margarine), almonds and viscous fibers such as those in eggplant or okra. After three months, their blood lipid and C-reactive protein levels were much better than those following the low-fat diet. The researchers did not detect significant differences between the group on the experimental portfolio diet and those taking lovastatin.
The investigators followed up with a six-month long study pitting the dietary portfolio against the standard low-fat diet (JAMA, Aug. 24/31, 2011).
As you might expect, their conclusions were consistent:
“Use of a dietary portfolio compared with the low−saturated fat dietary advice resulted in greater LDL-C lowering during 6 months of follow-up.”
Not all plant-based diets help lower cholesterol. Researchers conducting the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study found that plant foods such as whole grains, fruits/vegetables, nuts/legumes, oils, tea/coffee lowered the risk of heart disease (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, July 25, 2017). On the other hand, people consuming more unhealthy foods such as juices/sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes/fries, sweets put themselves at greater risk for coronary heart disease.
You will find other suggestions for dietary measures that can help lower blood lipids in our eGuide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health. In it you will find Laura Effel’s strategy on how she lowered her LDL cholesterol 44 points in five weeks.