Healthy eating can reduce cholesterol. Your diet should be low in saturated fats in particular, and low in fat overall. Biscuits, cakes, pastries, red meat, hard cheese, butter and foods containing coconut or palm oil all tend to be high in saturated fats, so cut down on these foods. Large amounts of cholesterol are found in a few foods, including eggs, offal such as liver and kidneys, and prawns. However, if you’re already eating a balanced diet, you don’t need to cut down on these foods unless your GP or dietitian have advised you to. There is some evidence that foods containing substances called plant sterols or plant stanols, in combination with a low fat diet and physical activity, can help to lower cholesterol.

To lower your cholesterol, you can actually eat more of certain foods. A handful of some “functional foods” have been shown to make a big impact on your cholesterol levels. Oatmeal and oat bran oatmeal contain soluble fiber, which reduces your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol. Soluble fiber is also found in such foods as kidney beans, brussels sprouts, apples, pears, psyllium, barley and prunes. Soluble fiber appears to reduce the absorption of cholesterol in your intestines. Gel-like soluble fiber binds bile (which contains cholesterol) and dietary cholesterol so that the body excretes it. Five to 10 grams of soluble fiber a day decreases LDL cholesterol by about 5%. Eating 1.5 cups of cooked oatmeal provides 4.5 grams of fiber – enough to lower your cholesterol.

To mix it up a little, try oat bran or cold cereal made with oatmeal or oat bran. Studies have shown that walnuts can significantly reduce blood cholesterol. Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, walnuts also help keep blood vessels healthy and elastic. Almonds appear to have a similar effect, resulting in a marked improvement within just four weeks.

A cholesterol-lowering diet in which 20% of the calories come from walnuts may reduce LDL cholesterol by 12%. For a 1,200-calorie per day diet, a little less than 1/3 of a cup of walnuts is about 240 calories, or 20 percent of the total calories for the
day. All nuts are high in calories, however, so a handful will suffice. As with any food, good or bad, eating too much can cause weight gain, and being overweight places you at higher risk of heart disease.

To avoid gaining weight, replace foods high in saturated fat with nuts. For example, instead of using cheese, luncheon meat or croutons in your salad, add a handful of walnuts or almonds. Omega-3 fatty acids are noted for their triglyceride-lowering effect, but they also help the heart in other ways, such as reducing blood pressure and the risk of blood clots. In people who have already had heart attacks, fish oil – or omega-3 fatty acids – significantly reduces the risk of sudden death. Doctors recommend eating at least two servings of fish a week. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are in mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon. However, to maintain the heart-healthy benefits of fish, bake or grill it.