Eat your way to lower cholesterol with these 7 foods.

When we talk about cholesterol, we usually talk about high cholesterol. But not all cholesterol is bad. Cholesterol is a waxy fat that’s found in every cell in your body. It helps produce hormones, vitamin D and compounds that help you digest food. But as Dr. Suzanne Scott explains, too much cholesterol can cause serious health problems.

“When cholesterol combines with calcium and other substances in the blood, it forms plaque, which sticks to the walls of your arteries,” said Dr. Suzanne Scott, M.D., a family practice physician with Penn Highlands Physician Network. “This narrows your arteries, restricting blood flow and increasing your risk for blood clots, heart attack and stroke.”

Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs, but foods high in saturated and trans fats cause your liver to create more cholesterol than is needed. Avoiding foods high in these unhealthy fats is a great way to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level. But you can go a step further by adding foods to your diet that can actually lower your cholesterol.

#1 Chickpeas

Also called garbanzo beans, chickpeas are loaded with cholesterol-friendly protein, soluble fiber and phytosterols, a naturally occurring compound that blocks cholesterol absorption. Chickpeas can also help diabetics maintain digestive health and regulate blood glucose levels. Recent research shows promising results that chickpeas can even help your lipid profile (a measure of the types of fat molecules in your blood).

#2 Oats

Just one and a half cups of oatmeal a day can lower your cholesterol by five to eight percent. Oatmeal is chock-full of soluble fiber (which lowers cholesterol) and insoluble fiber (which keeps you regular). Oatmeal isn’t the only way to add oats to your diet. Ground oats can be added to all sorts of foods, like casseroles and baked goods. Try swapping out one-third of the flour in a recipe with oats the next time you bake.

#3 Unsalted Almonds

Almonds are high in unsaturated fat (the healthy kind of fat). Not only do almonds contain no cholesterol, but they may even improve your overall blood cholesterol by increasing vitamin E levels in plasma and red blood cells, which helps stop the oxidation process that causes cholesterol to clog the arteries.

#4 Vegetable Oils

It may seem counterintuitive, but getting rid of all fat in your diet may actually work against efforts to lower your cholesterol. Vegetable oils like canola oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil and others provide essential fatty acids that are actually good for your heart. So instead of trying to cut out all fat, cook with vegetable oils rather than butter or oils high in saturated fat, like coconut oil and palm oil.

#5 Apples

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, and two apples a day can lower your cholesterol. Studies have shown that two apples a day resulted in a decrease in cholesterol of up to 13 percent. Apples are high in fiber and polyphenols, which increase good cholesterol and reduce bad cholesterol.

#6 Grapes

Grapes can reduce cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of fat molecule) nearly as well as prescription drugs. Grapes contain pterostilbene, which research has shown can regulate blood fat levels as well as drugs in the same class as Lopid and Tricor. In addition, pterostilbene has also been shown to contain cancer-fighting properties.

#7 Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits contain a compound called polymethoxylated flavones that, like pterostilbene in grapes, have the potential to lower cholesterol as effectively as some prescription drugs. Even more, the fiber in citrus that helps lower cholesterol can also help with weight loss and digestive health.

“People 20 years and older should have their cholesterol checked every five years,” said Dr. Scott. “If you are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, you should have your cholesterol checked more frequently. Fortunately, cholesterol screenings are simple blood tests that can be performed by your primary care provider during your annual exam.”

Penn Highlands Healthcare offers comprehensive primary care, including cholesterol tests and other preventive care and screenings at locations throughout the region. For more information or to find a primary care provider near you, visit