Cholesterol Lowering Foods: The Power is on Your Plate

Article written and reviewed by Cyrus Khambatta, PhD
Published February 7, 2019

In today’s world, 1 out of every 3 Americans die from heart disease. More than 90 million people are currently living with cardiovascular disease in the United States alone (1,2).

Take a look around. Count how many people you can see. Now divide that number by 3. That’s how many people have some form of heart disease, including atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, and coronary artery disease.

Cardiovascular disease kills someone every 40 seconds. If it takes you 8 minutes to read this article, 12 people will have died by the time you finish.

Sorry to be morbid, but we are being real. These statistics are scary, but they’re true.

Your Genes Are Not to Blame

Before we talk about cholesterol lowering foods, let’s start by talking about what foods cause high cholesterol and increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.

As physician and cardiovascular disease researcher Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. says, “Our genetics load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.”

A loaded gun doesn’t kill anyone if you never pull the trigger. Similarly, genes are not expressed unless there is a clear signal to do so. A genetic predisposition towards heart disease is harmless unless you “pull the trigger” with a diet high in saturated fat and low in cholesterol lowering foods (3–5).

The food on your plate determines your heart disease risk significantly more than the genes you inherited from your parents.

Unfortunately, many people believe that they inherit their cardiovascular health genetically, and make statements like, “Heart disease runs in my family.” The truth is that only 2-3% of the population actually inherits genetic abnormalities that require pharmaceutical medication (5).

The remaining 97-98% can control their cardiovascular health using a diet low in animal products and high in cholesterol-lowering foods.

Low-Carbohydrate and Ketogenic Diets Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease

Many medical professionals encourage their patients to eat a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, asserting that it is cardioprotective. Not only is this information misleading, it’s flat out wrong.

Much of the recommendations to eat a low-carbohydrate diet come from short-term studies that demonstrate how low-carbohydrate and ketogenic diets can significantly reduce your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) (6–14).

While it is true that low-carbohydrate diets can reduce your LDL cholesterol, this only happens when it is accompanied by weight loss. For people that don’t lose weight, low-carbohydrate diets either have no effect on, or increase, your LDL cholesterol level.

To put it plainly – your LDL cholesterol level can drop when eating a low-carbohydrate diet, but only if you lose weight in the process. If you don’t lose weight, your LDL cholesterol level is likely to increase dramatically.

Unfortunately, studies that advocate a low-carbohydrate diet for improved cardiovascular health are often fraught with errors, including conflicts of interest, short-term study design, statistical bias, and misleading language.

Nutrition recommendations generally are not made with your best interest at heart. It’s sad but true that big money dictates food policy, which influences public health recommendations immensely.

Dr. Michael Greger of Nuritionfacts.org covers an example of this in a series of videos that show how beef and dairy lobbies intentionally design misleading studies to ensure that consumers continue to buy their products.

In addition, the egg board publishes patently false and misleading claims to encourage people to continue to eat eggs (15–19). They publish statements like the following:

Egg Board Lies

The reason why doctors advocate either a low-carbohydrate diet or a ketogenic diet is because they are effective at promoting weight loss in obese and overweight patients.

Because weight loss reduces LDL cholesterol, doctors are quick to recommend low-carbohydrate diets as a means of promoting quick metabolic improvements to avoid death in the short-term. 

Low-carbohydrate and ketogenic diets are short-term solutions that promote rapid weight loss and improved biomarkers, however in the long-term these low-carbohydrate diets become serious medical liabilities.

Although low-carbohydrate diets may help patients lose weight and drop LDL cholesterol in the first few months, these patients often eventually suffer from increased cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, low energy, weight gain, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and increased risk for all-cause mortality (death from all causes) (12,20–26).

In addition, low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets negate improvements in insulin sensitivity, which significantly increases your risk for all chronic disease.

Heart Disease Starts on Your Plate

Cholesterol is only found in animal products, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. Plant foods do not contain cholesterol.

Cholesterol in Food

Many people believe that eating cholesterol-containing foods does not increase your blood cholesterol, but this is only the case in people who already have high cholesterol. 

In studies involving people with low cholesterol levels, eating cholesterol-rich animal foods leads to a measurable increase in blood cholesterol in the first few hours following a single meal.

These studies clearly show that cholesterol-rich foods increase your blood cholesterol. However, performing studies in people already consuming large amounts of cholesterol on a daily basis makes it difficult to measure meal-to-meal changes in blood cholesterol.

Studying people with high cholesterol at baseline is one way that special interest groups hide the truth about what cholesterol-rich foods do to your blood.

Understanding Your Fasting Lipid Panel

Now let’s talk about the actual cholesterol particles in your blood. When you go to the doctor and get your “fasting lipid panel,” your doctor typically measures the following:

  • Total Cholesterol
  • LDL Cholesterol
  • HDL Cholesterol
  • Triglycerides

Each of these biomarkers has a biological significance, so let’s go into detail about what each of them indicates.

Total Cholesterol

Your total cholesterol is a measurement that takes your LDL, HDL, and triglycerides into account. Your total cholesterol is calculated using this formula:

Total cholesterol = LDL + HDL + (Triglycerides/5)

LDL Cholesterol

(The "Bad" Cholesterol)

LDL cholesterol particles deliver cholesterol and fatty acids to tissues all over your body. Think of LDL particles as cholesterol delivery trucks, whose job is to transport lipids in your blood and deliver them to tissues.

LDL cholesterol is considered the "bad" cholesterol because it deposits cholesterol in your muscles, adipose, brain, thyroid, heart, pancreas, and other vital organs.

HDL Cholesterol

(The "Good" Cholesterol)

HDL cholesterol particles act as cholesterol vacuum cleaners, removing excess cholesterol from tissues all over your body. They do the exact opposite job of LDL, and are designed to remove cholesterol from tissues and return it to your liver.

HDL cholesterol is considered the "good" cholesterol because these particles vacuum cholesterol from your muscles, adipose, brain, heart, pancreas, and other vital organs. 

LDL Cholesterol HDL Cholesterol


Your triglyceride level measures the total amount of stored fatty acids in both your LDL and HDL particles. The higher your triglyceride level, the more fatty acids you have stored in both particle types in your blood.

Your LDL Cholesterol Level Determines Your Heart Disease Risk

Studies have shown that the higher your LDL cholesterol, the higher your risk for heart disease. This has been known for decades, and has been verified in more than 1 million people (27). 

Evidence-based literature shows that reducing your LDL cholesterol is the most effective way to reduce your risk for heart disease. That’s why many cholesterol medications are designed to reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol your liver manufacturers, thus reducing the amount of LDL in your blood.

An exhaustive look at the literature reveals something very important – eating a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet containing cholesterol lowering foods not only reduces your LDL cholesterol level, but can drop your heart disease risk to effectively zero (28–31).

The reason for this is simple – when you minimize or eliminate the amount of cholesterol that enters your mouth, your LDL cholesterol level often drops significantly. Studies have shown that a diet low in animal products or devoid of animal products is the most effective way to reduce your LDL cholesterol level (5,32–34).

If your LDL cholesterol increases by consuming foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein, then what foods have been shown to lower your cholesterol altogether?

The most effective cholesterol lowering foods are those from the plant world, which automatically contain zero cholesterol and zero saturated fat. These foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

The reason why they are the most powerful cholesterol lowering foods is not only because they are devoid of cholesterol and saturated fat, but because they are high in cardioprotective nutrients including vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, and antioxidants.

A diet containing ample amounts of plant-based, whole foods can drop your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol quickly, and improve your cardiovascular health significantly (5,32–34). The most powerful cholesterol lowering foods are shown below:

Cholesterol Lowering Foods 2

We recently wrote an exhaustive article about about the incredible cholesterol reducing power of amla (Indian gooseberries), showing how 1-3 grams per day is effective at protecting against fatty liver, and reducing cholesterol, triglycerides, phospholipids, and LDL cholesterol levels, and reversing atherosclerosis.

Amla is considered one of the most powerful cholesterol lowering foods ever discovered, and because of that we decided to make Amla Green – the world’s first Indian green tea. 

Many of those who have tried incorporating amla into their diet have already experienced reduced blood glucose and cholesterol levels within the first month of using Amla Green on a daily basis, and we are very excited to continue promoting improved cardiovascular health.

If you’re interested in using Amla Green, click on the image below to get started today:

Get Your Hands on the World's Most Powerful Antioxidant

If you’re interested in learning how Amla Green can benefit your metabolic health, click on the image below:


Take Home Messages

  • Your risk for heart disease is mainly determined by your diet, not by your genes
  • Low-carbohydrate diets are short-term solutions for weight loss and reduced cholesterol
  • Foods that are high in cholesterol increase your heart disease risk
  • Foods that do not contain cholesterol (plant foods) reduce your heart disease risk
  • LDL cholesterol deposits cholesterol in peripheral tissues 
  • HDL cholesterol vacuums cholesterol from peripheral tissues


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About the author 

Cyrus Khambatta, PhD

Cyrus Khambatta, PhD is a New York Times bestselling co-author of Mastering Diabetes: The Revolutionary Method to Reverse Insulin Resistance Permanently in Type 1, Type 1.5, Type 2, Prediabetes, and Gestational Diabetes.

He is the co-founder of Mastering Diabetes and Amla Green, and is an internationally recognized nutrition and fitness coach who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 2002. He co-created the Mastering Diabetes Method to reverse insulin resistance in all forms of diabetes, and has helped more than 10,000 people improve their metabolic health using low-fat, plant-based, whole-food nutrition, intermittent fasting, and exercise.

Cyrus earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University in 2003, then earned a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 2012. He is the co-author of many peer-reviewed scientific publications.

He is the co-host of the annual Mastering Diabetes Online Summit, a featured speaker at the Plant-Based Nutrition and Healthcare Conference (PBNHC), the American College of Lifestyle Medicine Conference (ACLM), Plant Stock, the Torrance Memorial Medical Center, and has been featured on The Doctors, NPR, KQED, Forks Over Knives, Healthline, Fast Company, Diet Fiction, and the wildly popular podcasts the Rich Roll Podcast, Plant Proof, MindBodyGreen, and Nutrition Rounds.

Scientific Publications:

Sarver, Jordan, Cyrus Khambatta, Robby Barbaro, Bhakti Chavan, and David Drozek. “Retrospective Evaluation of an Online Diabetes Health Coaching Program: A Pilot Study.” American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, October 15, 2019, 1559827619879106. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827619879106

Shrivastav, Maneesh, William Gibson, Rajendra Shrivastav, Katie Elzea, Cyrus Khambatta, Rohan Sonawane, Joseph A. Sierra, and Robert Vigersky. “Type 2 Diabetes Management in Primary Care: The Role of Retrospective, Professional Continuous Glucose Monitoring.” Diabetes Spectrum: A Publication of the American Diabetes Association 31, no. 3 (August 2018): 279–87. https://doi.org/10.2337/ds17-0024

Thompson, Airlia C. S., Matthew D. Bruss, John C. Price, Cyrus F. Khambatta, William E. Holmes, Marc Colangelo, Marcy Dalidd, et al. “Reduced in Vivo Hepatic Proteome Replacement Rates but Not Cell Proliferation Rates Predict Maximum Lifespan Extension in Mice.” Aging Cell 15, no. 1 (February 2016): 118–27. https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.12414

Roohk, Donald J., Smita Mascharak, Cyrus Khambatta, Ho Leung, Marc Hellerstein, and Charles Harris. “Dexamethasone-Mediated Changes in Adipose Triacylglycerol Metabolism Are Exaggerated, Not Diminished, in the Absence of a Functional GR Dimerization Domain.” Endocrinology 154, no. 4 (April 2013): 1528–39. https://doi.org/10.1210/en.2011-1047

Price, John C., Cyrus F. Khambatta, Kelvin W. Li, Matthew D. Bruss, Mahalakshmi Shankaran, Marcy Dalidd, Nicholas A. Floreani, et al. “The Effect of Long Term Calorie Restriction on in Vivo Hepatic Proteostatis: A Novel Combination of Dynamic and Quantitative Proteomics.” Molecular & Cellular Proteomics: MCP 11, no. 12 (December 2012): 1801–14.

Bruss, Matthew D., Airlia C. S. Thompson, Ishita Aggarwal, Cyrus F. Khambatta, and Marc K. Hellerstein. “The Effects of Physiological Adaptations to Calorie Restriction on Global Cell Proliferation Rates.” American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism 300, no. 4 (April 2011): E735-745. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00661.2010

Bruss, Matthew D., Cyrus F. Khambatta, Maxwell A. Ruby, Ishita Aggarwal, and Marc K. Hellerstein. “Calorie Restriction Increases Fatty Acid Synthesis and Whole Body Fat Oxidation Rates.” American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism 298, no. 1 (January 2010): E108-116.