You’ve probably seen certain foods touted as helpful for lowering cholesterol. But how exactly are diet and cholesterol connected?

Let’s back up for a minute. In case you need a quick refresher on cholesterol, we all have two natural types in our bodies: HDL, the “happy” or good kind, and LDL, the “lousy” kind. In general, having a high HDL is healthy, while having a high LDL is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

That’s because LDL tends to clog and harden arteries, whereas HDL carries LDL away from the arteries to your liver to be eliminated. HDL also seems to protect against damage to blood vessels (a major precursor to hardened arteries).

Then there’s dietary cholesterol, found in animal-based foods. Experts used to think that eating high-cholesterol foods—like egg yolks and shrimp—raised total blood cholesterol levels. Newer research has shown that’s not true.

But what we do know for certain is that other foods (think oats and almonds) can help manage or improve your overall cholesterol profile, and reduce your risk of heart disease. Below are my top five picks for these “cholesterol helpers”—plus easy and tasty ways to eat them more often.


Several studies have linked pulses—the umbrella term for beans, lentils, and peas, like chickpeas—to cholesterol reduction. One study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that a 3/4 cup of pulses daily lowered lousy LDL cholesterol by 5%. That may not sound like much, but it is a significant drop.

Pulses are truly one of the most versatile food groups, since they can be consumed in both savory and sweet dishes, and are found in many forms, including whole beans, purees like hummus, pulse flours, and products like pulse-based pastas. Add beans to an omelet or whip chickpea flour into a smoothie. Snack on oven-roasted chickpeas or veggies with lentil dip. Add beans or lentils to salads or soups, use pulse noodles in place of wheat versions, and swap all-purpose flour for chickpea or fava bean flour in baked goods. You can even use a hummus or pureed split peas or lentils in place of creamy sauces.

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