Healthy Eating

What foods help to lower cholesterol?

  1. Oats:
    Eating porridge is a great way to help to lower cholesterol. If you don’t like porridge, try adding dry oats to muesli or other cereals or look for oatcakes.
  2. Beans and lentils:
    These high fibre foods can help keep cholesterol levels healthy. Try to have beans or lentils 3-4 times a week. Try baked beans, chickpeas or kidney beans in salads, soups made with lentils and chilli-con-carne.
  3. Barley:
    Barley is rich in a type of fibre called beta-glucan which can also help to lower cholesterol. Try adding some traditional ‘soup-mix’ to soups, stews and casseroles.
  4. Plant sterols/stanols:
    Plant sterols/stanols are natural substances found in some foods – such as almonds, soy bean oil and sesame seeds.

Cholesterol in your blood comes from two main places:

A. You can eat cholesterol in certain foods.

Eggs, crustaceans (like prawns, lobster and crab) and liver all have cholesterol in them. However, this type of cholesterol is only responsible for a small amount of the cholesterol found in your blood.

B. The second place cholesterol comes from is saturated fat.

This is where most of the cholesterol in your blood comes from. When you eat saturated fat, your liver makes cholesterol from it and this is why saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels.

Saturated fat is the type of fat found mainly in animal foods like cream, cheese and butter and the fat on meat. It is also found in biscuits, cakes, pastries and scones, because we use saturated fat to make them. Saturated fat is also found in processed meat like sausages, black & white pudding, pâté and so on. You can look at labels to see how much saturated fat there is in your food.

What is considered high saturated fat?

  • More than 1.5g of saturated fat per 100g of the food

What is considered low saturated fat?

  • Less than 1.5g of saturated fat per 100g of the food
What can I do to reduce saturated fat?

Eat less butter and cream and limit cheese.

Remember that dairy foods like milk and yoghurt are important sources of calcium in your diet so it is not healthy to cut out these foods.

Choose low-fat or skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurt's.

If your cholesterol is high it is best to limit the amount of cheese you eat.

Choose low fat cooking methods.

Swap frying for grilling, boiling and baking. Try steaming more foods and choose healthier fats for roasting such as rapeseed oil instead of lard or butter.

Trim the visible fat from meat and remove the skin from chicken.

Most of the fat in chicken is just under the skin!

What about omega-3 from nuts and seeds?Is it still worth eating nuts and seeds?

Yes! Nuts and seeds are rich in healthy fats as well as vitamins and minerals but for omega-3 you do need to include some oil-rich fish at least once a week.

What is considered oil-rich fish?

Although fish will not help to lower cholesterol, it has lots of benefits for your heart. Omega-3 fats, which are found in oil-rich fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines, are very beneficial for your heart.

Did you know that eating fish once a week can cut your chances of a fatal heart attack by over 30%?

Omega-3 fats are found in fresh, frozen, tinned, fried and smoked fish. Tuna is the one exception – fresh tuna has omega-3 but tinned tuna generally does not.

However, tinned salmon, tinned mackerel and tinned sardines are all good sources of omega-3.

Fruit and Vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants which can help to keep your heart healthy.

They are also good sources of potassium, which helps to keep blood pressure at healthy levels as well. Aim for 5 a day (that’s 5 altogether, not 5 of each. Although, if you want to get to 10 a day feel free…).

Fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables are the best choices. The easiest way to get your 5-a-day is to think about having some fruit or vegetables at every meal.

  • Try slicing a banana over breakfast cereal.
  • Drink a glass of fruit juice at breakfast. 
  • Add some salad to your sandwich at lunchtime or a bowl of vegetable soup.
  • Finally, make sure that vegetables or salad make up 1/3 of your plate at dinner.

What about coconut oil?

Coconut oil is a very popular oil that is high in saturated fat. It is claimed that the type of saturated fat found in coconut oil (called stearic acid) does not raise cholesterol levels.

Is this really true?

  • There are a lot of studies looking at stearic acid and cholesterol. 
  • Where stearic acid is used instead of other saturated fats, you do see a small decrease in cholesterol in some studies or no change at all in others. 
  • However, in studies where stearic acid is compared to olive oil, you tend to see an increase in cholesterol with the stearic acid. 
  • There is still more research needed in this area but, for now, the advice is to stick with olive oil and watch this space!

What fats should I use?

  • Healthier fats to choose are olive oil and rapeseed oil and spreads that are made from them. 
  • You can use olive or rapeseed oil in cooking or dressings. 
  • Just remember that these fats have as many calories as any other type of fat so only use a small amount to help keep weight healthy.


This information is reproduced with the permission of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute. Please visit for further information. 

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