7 Carbs You Should Be Buying to Lower Cholesterol, According to a Dietitian
More than one-third of all U.S. adults have high cholesterol. So, if you are one of the nearly 94 million Americans experiencing this condition, know that you are not alone.
For people who want to lower their cholesterol, some good news is that there are several foods that can help with this goal—carbs included! While carbohydrates have been vilified recently thanks to diets like keto, Atkins and the South Beach Diet, there are several healthy carbs that are worth a spot on your plate. Not to mention, including carbs in an overall heart-healthy diet can actually help your body experience lower cholesterol levels naturally.
While it is true that some carbs are not the best choice when trying to support healthy cholesterol levels—think cookies, candies and other sweet treats—there are other carb-rich foods that are packed with important nutrients that may help reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol, increase HDL ("good") cholesterol and help support overall heart health.
Types of Carbs in Foods
Most carbohydrates fall into two categories: whole-food-based carbs (commonly called "complex carbohydrates") and refined carbs (often referred to as "simple carbohydrates", though not all refined carbs are simple carbs). Whole-food-based carbs are typically free of added sugar, are chock-full of important nutrients and contain more fiber than most simple carbs. Whole grains, many fruits, starchy vegetables and beans/legumes fall into the whole-food-based carb category.
On the other hand, refined carbs are typically more processed and lower in fiber and micronutrients. Examples of refined-carb foods include cookies, candies, pretzels, white bread and drinks with added sugars (like soda or sugar-sweetened tea).
Carbohydrates give your body the fuel it needs to make energy. And while some research suggests that eating a low-carb diet may have cholesterol-lowering benefits (especially when compared with the effects of a low-fat diet), you will be hard-pressed to find science suggesting that people who want to reduce their cholesterol levels should go 100% carb-free.
When carbohydrates are included in a cholesterol-lowering diet, the quality of the carbs plays a crucial role. Opting for foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting or avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages, refined cereals and added sugars appears to result in better outcomes for cholesterol levels.
7 Carbs You Should Be Buying to Lower Cholesterol
If you are one of the many people whose LDL or HDL cholesterol levels are simply not where you want them to be, here are seven carbohydrates you can add to your grocery list that may help naturally maintain healthier cholesterol levels.
Snacking on prunes can fuel your body with many nutrients that are key for heart health, including antioxidants, fiber, potassium and magnesium. Research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food suggests that, among postmenopausal women, eating approximately five to six prunes each day for six months may offer positive cardiovascular health outcomes, including raising HDL cholesterol and lowering the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL.
Improved antioxidant capacity and reduced inflammation were also seen in subjects who ate five to six prunes every day for six months when compared with those who did not eat prunes daily. Another clinical study found that prune consumption may play a positive role in intestinal microflora regulation and, in turn, may lower total cholesterol levels among people with mildly elevated cholesterol.
Prunes are perfectly portable fruits that don't require refrigeration and are easy to enjoy when on the go. Or, if you are craving more of a meal, you can enjoy prunes in a dish like Ragout of Pork & Prunes.
Oats are a whole-grain carbohydrate choice that is a staple breakfast food. And if you are trying to lower your cholesterol, eating oats may be one of the best things you can do, thanks to the unique beta-glucan fiber they contain. This fiber binds LDL cholesterol in the body, helping remove it before it is absorbed. In one meta-analysis evaluating 28 studies, results suggest that adding at least 3 grams of oat beta-glucans per day may reduce LDL cholesterol by 10 mg/dL.
The humble potato is a starchy veggie that is equally delicious as it is good for you. Along with the boost of carbohydrates that potatoes provide, each serving fuels your body with soluble fiber, a nutrient that can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.
While all potatoes can fit into a cholesterol-lowering diet, purple potatoes may offer an additional cholesterol-lowering benefit thanks to the anthocyanin polyphenols they contain (this is a type of antioxidant that is responsible for giving these potatoes their gorgeous purple hue). Data shows that anthocyanin intake via supplementation offers cholesterol-improving benefits. While we can't definitively say that getting this antioxidant from food will offer the same results, there is little (if any) risk and are several benefits associated with eating these pretty purple taters. Try some German-Style Purple Potato Salad for a fun way to try these unique tubers.
When including potatoes in your diet, choose those that are baked, boiled or air-fried instead of preparations that include deep-frying or ingredients that are rich in saturated fat (like bacon and butter). Stuffed Potatoes with Salsa & Beans or Roasted Potatoes & Brussels Sprouts are other flavorful ways to enjoy this popular veggie.
There may be some truth to the old saying "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"—at least when lowering cholesterol. Apples are a natural source of various polyphenols and fibers, factors that may naturally support heart health. Plus, they are sodium-free and saturated-fat-free, while offering a sweet taste with no added sugars.
Among the nutrients found in apples, one of the heart-health stars is pectin, a type of fiber found in an apple's skin that helps prevent cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream.
Results of one recent study evaluating people with mildly elevated cholesterol showed that the simple act of eating two apples every day resulted in reduced serum total and LDL cholesterol compared with people who didn't eat a regular dose of this crunchy fruit.
Beans not only provide energy-sustaining carbohydrates, but they also provide fiber, plant-based proteins, antioxidants and a slew of other nutrients that support heart health.
Thanks to their convenience and cost-effectiveness, using canned beans can be a simple part of following a cholesterol-lowering diet. In fact, a 2021 study in the Journal of Nutrition concluded that eating 1 cup of canned beans every day for four weeks may decrease total and LDL cholesterol in adults with elevated LDL cholesterol.
Berries are packed with fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and other nutrients, making them one of the best foods for overall health. No matter whether you are reaching for juicy red raspberries, gorgeous blue blueberries or any other variety of berries, including these fruits in your diet may be a big help in managing your cholesterol levels. In fact, many studies have shown that eating berries is consistently linked to a decrease in total and LDL and an increase HDL cholesterol.
7. 100% Orange Juice
Beverage choices matter just as much as food choices when aiming to achieve healthy cholesterol levels. If you want to drink something other than water, an occasional glass of 100% orange juice is a viable option to support your health goals, especially compared to sugar-sweetened beverages.
According to research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, drinking any carbonated beverage with added sugar, as well as punch, lemonade or other noncarbonated fruit
"drinks" was linked to lower HDL cholesterol. However, the lipid profiles were not significantly affected by fruit juice consumption.
Past observational data shows that adults who drank orange juice had significantly lower total and LDL cholesterol levels, with males having a 23% reduced risk for low HDL levels compared to non-OJ drinkers. Other more recent research supports that long-term orange juice drinkers tend to have lower levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol compared to non-OJ drinkers.
Of course, you can sip on some good old-fashioned OJ to potentially reap these health benefits. But if you want to include it in your dishes, recipes like Orange Ginger Chicken Bowls and Honey & Orange Glazed Carrots are nice options to explore.
While food and lifestyle play an important role in both prevention and treatment, if you have high cholesterol, medical treatment may be necessary. Work closely with your health care team to create a medical plan that is best for you.