Low cholesterol levels require a well-thought and well-balanced diet. Even small changes can produce substantial results if you are cosistent. Taking a good look at your eating habits will help you make the right choices for you and your nutritional needs. You can start with this list right here.

The ten foods on this list not only can help you keep cholesterol at low levels but have many great nutrional benefits.Another thing to consider is that eating more of these foods means that there is less room for fatty and unhealthy foods in your low cholesrerol diet.

Remember that for very high cholesterol levels a healthy diet may not be enough. Consult your health care provider for the proper medication.

Fresh Fruit and VegetablesCredit: public domain

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance with a waxy texture that can be found in all our cells. It is produced by the body itself and serves some really important purposes like making vitamin D, hormones and substances that facilitate food digestion. It travels through the blood stream in neat little packages called lipoproteins. These are made of fat (lipid) on the inside and protein on the outside.

Types of lipoproteins you should know about

Low density lipoproteins (LDL): The notorious “bad cholesterol” lives up to its reputation. LDL is responsible for the formation of plaque on the walls of arteries. The more LDL there is in the blood, the greater the risk of heart disease.

High density lipoproteins (HDL): They are the nice guys, the so called “good cholesterol”, and they're actually quite helpful because they carry LDL (the bad guys) to the liver so you can get rid of them. A high level of HDL is actually a good thing because it decreases your risk of heart disease.

Very low density lipoproteins (VLDL): They are similar to LDL. They mostly consist of fat, a little protein, and not much else.

Triglycerides: Another form of “bad fat”. They are carried in the blood with the help of VLDL. They are stored in the fat cells throughout your body. Triglycerides are all the excess calories, alcohol or sugar that your body cannot process. It has to go somewhere, right?

Some foods for a low cholesterol diet

A fairly good amount of cholesterol comes from food and, of course, not all foods are created equal. Some will help you keep low cholesterol levels while others will elevate your LDL and place you at a risk of coronary heart disease and a heart attack. On the other hand, there are some great foods to consider for your cholesterol free diet. Here's the list of 10 foods for low cholesterol levels.

1. Nuts

WalnutsCredit: Charles Rondeau, publicdomainpictures.netGoing nuts isn't always a bad thing. They are generally one of the healthiest snack choices you have. They are a great source of dietary fiber, antioxidants, magnesium, copper, folic acid, vegetable protein, potassium, vitamin E, and healthy fats.

Eating 2 ounces (about 60 grams) of nuts a day can slightly lower LDL, on the order of 5%[1].Walnuts are a great example because they have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. They can be part of a low cholesterol diet, according to their FDA health claim[2]. Almonds also contain unsaturated fatty acids like oleic and palmitoleic acids which have been shown to lower blood LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL[3]. Other great options are peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans and pistachios. Remember to keep the portions small. Always opt for raw nuts without any salt. 

2. Oats

Oats of Low Cholesterol LevelsCredit: public domainOats are an amazing cereal with a lot of health promoting qualities. They are a very good source of magnesium. They also contain muscle-building protein, and the free-radical-scavenging selenium and manganese. Additional benefits come from tryptophan, their B1 and phosphorous content. Oats contain both types of essential fiber, soluble (55%) and unsoluble (45%), in a well-balanced combination.

Their unique phenolic compounds (called avenanthramides) are potent antioxidants with additional cardioprotective effects. Avenanthramides can protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation and therefore inhibit the mechanism involved in atherosclerosis[3]. Oats are also a superb source of tocotrienols. These compounds inhibit cholesterol synthesis and have been found to lower blood cholesterol[4].

Oats, oat bran and oatmeal contain a very special dietary fiber called beta-glucan. This is a polysaccharide that lowers the levels of cholesterol. This also means you are less likely to suffer a stroke or a heart attack. It is also worth noting that beta-glucans enhance the immune system and its response to bacterial infection[5]. So, what better way to start your day than a hot bowl of oatmeal?

3. Salmon and Other Fatty Fish

raw salmonCredit: Petr Kratochvil, www.publicdomainpictures.netFish is generally a high-protein, low-calorie food with many health benefits, although some of them stand out because they have extra health-protective effects. Salmon and other types of fatty fish like sardines, trout, mackerel and tuna, are full of the so called “good fats”, that is the omega-3 fatty acids, which include the very powerful eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Omega-3s have numerous health promoting qualities including reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthitis, and even certain cancers such as breast cancer. They also help prevent cognitive and behavioural dysfunctions. Omega-3s help with mood, thinking, circulation, and glucose and insulin metabolism[6]. According to research from Loma Linda University, a diet that includes two servings of fatty fish per week decreases trygliceride levels by 11.4% and increases HDL (good cholesterol) by 4% . In addition, these two weekly servings slightly lower LDL (bad cholesterol)[7].Another thing to consider is that, by replacing meat with fatty fish, you reduce your saturated fat intake and lower LDL even more.

4. Beans

Black Beans for Low Cholesterol LevelsCredit: public domainBeans are especially rich in soluble fiber and very good for weight management, since they take longer to digest and make you feel full for longer after a meal. Soluble dietary fiber has the ability to lower cholesterol by binding it in the intestinal tract and preventing re-absorption into the body.Black beans are a great example of concentrated fiber. They also contain folic acid, which lowers homocysteine in the blood and prevents it from damaging artery walls. Homocysteine is an amino acid naturally produced in our body, but too much of it in the blood means trouble. Black beans also contain polyphenolic antioxidant phytonutrients which protect cholesterol from oxidation that results in atherosclerosis development[3]Kidney beans have a similar nutrient contect and health benefits.

This food (and legumes in general) is highly recommended as a daily addition to your diet. Eating a small portion of beans five or more times a week can help you reach the 25-30 grams of fiber the body needs every day. There are many choices, you don't have to have the same old thing every day! Great varieties to consider are kidney, navy, pinto, black, chickpea and butter beans.

5. Spinach

Spinach for Low Cholesterol LevelsCredit: public domainSpinach is trully one of the best things you can eat. It is a nutritionally supercharged vegetable full of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, beta-carotene,manganese, zinc, and selenium. These are all powerful antioxidants that protect against many diseases and health conditions. It also has a great deal of magnesium which helps you maintain healthy levels of blood pressure, iron which protects against anaemia and folic acid that fights the dreaded homocysteine. This chemical harms blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia[5].

Spinach, like other dark green leafy vegetables, also contains lutein. This natural carotenoid can only be synthesized by plants. Lutein has been shown to be protective against age-related macular degeneration. What's more, it has anti-inflammatory and and antioxidant effects that are less well-known. According to one study, lutein prevents cholesterol accumulation and decreases oxidized LDL, thus protecting against the formation of arterial plaque, which means that it is protective against atherosclerosis[8].

6. Avocado

Avocado for Low Cholesterol LevelsCredit: public domainAvocados are an amazing food, but much feared for their fat and calories. It is true that one avocado has about 300 calories and 30 g of fat. However, consumed in moderation, avocados can be an ideal addition to your diet, especially if you want to lower your cholesterol naturally.

Avocandos contain the good kind of fat, since they are high in oleic acid. This omega-9 essential fat can also be found in nuts and olive oil. In one study from Mexico, 45 volunteers who ate avocados every day for a week experienced an average 17% drop in total blood cholesterol[5]. In addition, the levels of their LDL and triglycerides dropped, while their HDL went up.

Avocados are also high in beta-sitosterol. This is a very useful plant-based fat that reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food. According to the American Journal of Medicine, beta-sitosterol has reduced cholesterol in sixteen human studies[9].

7. Garlic

Garlic for Low Cholesterol LevelsCredit: public domainGarlic has been used for cooking and as a medicine for centuries. It adds a unique flavour to many savoury dishes and it is used in different cuisines around the world. It is arich source of vitamins and minerals. In addition, garlic has unique sulfur compounds. One of them, allicin, is a potent antibacterial and antiviral agent, Combined with vitamin C, it has the ability to kill harmfull microbes[3].

Garlic is and excellent food for your heart. It can lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots, reduce blood pressure, and protect against infection. According to research, garlic can also inhibit the formation of nanoplaque in the arteries[10]. Nanoplaque is basically the earliest stage of arterial plaque. This amazing food keeps individual cholesterol particles from attaching themselves to artery walls. What's more, in a meta-analysis of several studies, garlic supplements lowered total serum cholesterol levels by 12 percent after four weeks of treatment. LDL was reduced 4 to 15 percent while the protective HDL remained intact or even increased in some cases[11].

8. Olive Oil

olive oilCredit: Bill Baker, www.clker.comOlive oil is the best ingredient you can add in a fresh green salad. If possible, choose cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil for your cooking. You can also use it instead of butter. You don't need much, a couple of tablespoons every day are enough to reap its extraordinary benefits. Olive oil is very high in phenolic compounds which are powerful antioxidants able to help with the prevention of many conditions and counter the effects of aging. It is also mostly made up of monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid. These are well known for their ability to lower LDL cholesterol and raises the protective HDL cholesterol[5]. Bare in mind that all fats, even the healthier plant based ones, are still fats and they should be consumed in moderation. After all they all carry their own burden of calories. It is up to you to find the balance in your own low cholesterol diet.

9. Apples

Apples for Low CholesterolCredit: public domainApples are bound to be in almost every list of super healthy foods. Like most fruit, every variety of apples has plenty of dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. They have more or less the same cholesterol lowering effects as oats. Soluble pectins in the flesh of the fruit have the ability to bind fats in the stomach and carry them out of the body as waste. Moreover, the polyphenols found in raw apples and apple juice inhibit LDL oxidation.

In some studies (trials involving rats), two medium sized apples contained the amount of fiber needed to lower total cholesterol by up to 10 percent and raise HDL cholesterol by about 10 percent. A few studies found that the polyphenols contained in apples can lower the oxidation of LDL[12].

If you don't care much for apples, you can try other fruit full of fiber and polyphenols like pears, grapes, strawberries or citrus fruits. Anyway, give apples a chance. “An apple a day” should be in every low cholesterol diet. 

10. Green Tea

Green Tea for Low CholesterolCredit: public domainGreen tea is an amazing beverage. Rich in antioxidants, it promotes heart health, aids digestion, and regulates blood sugar and body temperature. It is great for people that want to lose weight because it raises the metabolic rate and speeds up fat oxidation.

Flavonoids, the main antioxidants in green tea, are compounds with many health protective actions. Research shows that drinking up to 10 cups of green tea (it sounds a lot, I know) a day has a significant impact on your blood cholesterol levels[13]. Catechins, one of the antioxidants found in tea, may be responsible for its cholesterol lowering effects. It has been suggested that polyphenols in green tea may block cholesterol from being absorbed in the intestine and also help the body get rid of cholesterol.

Black tea has the same ant cholesterol properties as green tea. The only drawback is it contains a lot more caffeine. So the best practice is to switch between them depending on the time of the day. It would be great to try and have your tea plain, without any sugar or sweeteners to make the beverage extremely healthy!