List of Foods that Lower Cholesterol | Why Harvard Medical Has It WRONG

In October 2009 Harvard Medical School published their list of foods that lower cholesterol. 

And I could have forgiven them for having dated information on their website. Especially a website as massive as Harvard’s. 

But then I saw the note that frankly… blew my mind; “This Article Was Updated on February 6, 2019”.

Throughout their website Harvard Medical touts, “TRUSTED Advice for Healthy life“. And they no doubt provide helpful advice to millions of individuals every year.

But what happens when a TRUSTED source provides bad advice?

And when it comes to giving bad advice on the list of foods that lower cholesterol, Harvard Medical School has plenty of “trusted authority” company including:

Mayo Clinic – Cholesterol:Top Foods To Improve Your Numbers 

HealthLine – 13 Cholesterol Lowering Foods To Add To Your Diet 

American Heart Association – Cooking To Lower Cholesterol

All of these website provide the same type of mis-guided, health and HEART HARMFUL information when it comes to the list of foods that lower cholesterol.

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Who Is Looking For Cholesterol Lowering Advice?

The sad part is, this one article on the Harvard Medical School website gets an estimated 1.1 million visits a year! Obviously, many of those  individuals who visit the page have cholesterol challenges and are possibly battling heart disease and hypertension.

In the below image is the search engine Google’s estimate of the number of monthly visits to the Harvard Medical School blog article titled: “11 Foods That Lower Cholesterol“. As you can see that list of foods is being seen over 91,000 times every month.

11 Foods That Lower Cholesterol List Harvard Medical School

Why Do We Fear Cholesterol?

Now before we get into the list of foods that lower cholesterol, according to Harvard Medical, Mayo Clinic, American Heart Disease, etc., we have to ask ourselves what is it, really, about cholesterol that we’re all so fearful of? 

It all comes down to this. We’re concerned that cholesterol builds up over time and creates a clog in our delicate blood vessels. Yeah. That’s something to be scared about. 

But what we don’t often hear anyone teaching us is that cholesterol is actually created by our own body for our body. That’s really important to know. That number one important thing is that our body creates 85% of the cholesterol that we see in our blood panel. Only about 15% of our total cholesterol comes from our diet. Wow.

"Only about 15% of our total cholesterol comes from our diet."

Again, the cholesterol we have within us is created by us. And it’s created by us to serve us. It’s for us.

Cholesterol gets a bad rap, and yet, cholesterol is what repairs any damage or fortifies any weakness within our body. Think about a blood vessel that sustains wear and tear over the years. Cholesterol repairs these. That’s the LDL. 

LDL gets the ‘bad’ label because it’s more prone to oxidation or becoming corrupted by glycation from glucose or blood sugar. Lessening damage to LDL, NOT lessening LDL, should be the focus.

What Causes High Cholesterol?

  1. Our body makes cholesterol in the exact amount it needs. As inflammation rises within us, cholesterol also rises for us. 
  2. Cholesterol saves our lives daily by repairing any damage to our blood vessels. 

To answer the question “What causes high cholesterol?“, it’s important to  understand what causes cholesterol to be over-produced by us in the first place. 

Over production of cholesterol in our body is the direct result of  damage or inflammation. And the two greatest damaging and inflammatory foods that naturally make life-sustaining cholesterol rise are… 

  1. Sugar
  2. Factory Fats 

To Learn More Read: “How To Lower Cholesterol Naturally”.

The Impact Of Sugar On Cholesterol

There’s more to sugar then what’s in the sugar bowl. Sugar is ANY carbohydrate. No matter what form a carbohydrate comes into our mouth, it turns into glucose. That includes fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains as well as the usual sugar suspects… cookies, candy and cake.

All carbohydrate, literally every carbohydrate that we consume is blood sugar. And blood sugar over time, because it’s quite rough and abrasive can cause microscopic abrasions or tears on our delicate blood vessels. It is the job of cholesterol to  patch and fortify those damaged areas. 

Cholesterol’s job is to sweep debris or patch any minuscule tears created from the sugar/glucose we’ve eaten. 

Eat more carbohydrate? Produce more cholesterol. 

Eat less carbohydrate? Produce less cholesterol. 

The simple way to lower cholesterol? Eat less carbohydrate.

The Impact Of Factory Fats On Cholesterol

The second great cell damager and inflammation stoker are what are called factory fats. These man made fats trigger a defensive response in our body to increase cholesterol production. 

These are fats made in factories. They’re fake foods that have very health appealing names and fall under the category of ‘Vegetable Oils’.  You might recognize them as:

  • Corn Oil 
  • Soybean Oil 
  • Sunflower Oil 
  • Canola Oil 
  • Safflower Oil 
  • And More…

Amazingly, not one of the oils above contain a single vegetable.

Their misleading title makes them sound healthy, but they’re not. These oils weaken cell membranes. That is definitely not healthy. They are made by man… not nature. And they’re terribly rich in inflammatory omega-6 which makes them harmful, not healthful. 

We are hard-pressed to find a food product that doesn’t have some kind of vegetable oil involved. Not only is the omega-6 inflammatory fat higher in volume, but we end up eating greater quantities of it because it’s entrenched in our food system. Packaged foods combine factory fats with high carbohydrate ingredients which is a deadly two-fisted punch. 

"Packaged foods combine factory fats with high carbohydrate ingredients which is a deadly two-fisted punch."

Barbara McDermott

Factory Fats + Glucose = Internal Corrosion and Inflammation which signals an uptick in cholesterol production and LDL exposure to damage.

Now that we know the two big cholesterol-raising food factors, 1.) Carbohydrate, and 2.) Factory Fats or Vegetable Oils, let’s take a look at the Harvard Medical School list of foods that lower cholesterol so we can see if these foods really do lower cholesterol. 

Harvard Medical School List Of Foods That Lower Cholesterol: 

Recommendation #1

Foods That Lower Cholesterol - Oats

1.) OATS – Why Oats & Oatmeal Aren’t The Answer… 

The oatmeal argument is founded on fiber. Fiber, we’re told, “binds up cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation”. 

In their recommendation above, Harvard Medical shares current nutrition guidelines which recommend “getting 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day, with at least 5 – 10 grams coming from soluble fiber.” I haven’t counted fiber and soluble fiber in my life, ever. I know I get fiber from my daily green leaves and cruciferous vegetables. I enjoy eating those loaded with butter and cheese. I don’t even think about fiber. 

The Problem With Oats / Oatmeal

 When we do the math we see that eating oatmeal for fiber literally doesn’t add up. One cup of oatmeal serves up just 1-2 grams of soluble fiber. That’s not very much. Then we’re advised by Harvard Medical to add a banana which will give us another 1/2 gram of fiber. 

A half gram???

Again, that’s very little fiber. What Harvard Medical’s cholesterol lowering food report doesn’t share is what the oatmeal and banana does deliver big on. The oatmeal and banana may deliver just 3-4 grams of fiber at the most, but it also delivers roughly 48 grams of sugar! 

"The oatmeal and banana delivers a little fiber, but with it comes roughly 48 grams of sugar!"

That sugar is the glucose generated from the digested carbohydrate. Oats digest to glucose which is sugar. Blood sugar. That’s 48 grams of sugar and only 4 grams of fiber. Recall, glucose (sugar aka carbohydrate) is the underlying cause of the cholesterol symptom. This is a perfect example of treating a symptom rather than addressing the cause.

When it comes to oats with a side of banana, I say, “No way!” It creates an internal situation for which our body produces more cholesterol. Remember, again, your body makes cholesterol according to demand. Eating oatmeal and bananas every day is a fool’s approach to “getting healthy”. 

Any foods that raise blood sugar subsequently, due to downstream damage, raise cholesterol. Therefore, oats should be considered a cholesterol raising food, not a cholesterol lowering food. If oatmeal and bananas exacerbate blood sugar, they certainly exacerbate cholesterol. 

Oatmeal and a banana is a carbohydrate loaded breakfast of 48 grams. That translates to 12 teaspoons of blood sugar. 12! Our body works tirelessly, thanks to insulin, to maintain just a 1 teaspoon amount of blood sugar. This breakfast is a health burden not a health boost.

Harvard Medical School List Of Foods That Lower Cholesterol: 

Recommendation #2

foods to eat that lower cholesterol According to Harvard Medical - Barley

2). Why BARLEY and OTHER WHOLE GRAINS Aren’t The Answer…

Grains are the most carbohydrate dense food on the planet. Period. And now that we know that ALL carbohydrate is blood sugar, and that elevated blood sugar causes inflammation you can now understand why… All Grain Inflames. When cholesterol responds proportionately to inflammation, how then could eating more grain lead to lower cholesterol? 

Contrary to the Harvard Medical School advice that “whole grains can help lower the risk of heart disease”, grain consumption increases risk of heart disease by its very nature. To the body, grain is glucose.

And to add insult to injury…  Carbohydrate is waist weight. That’s why many who struggle with cholesterol also have a weight gain problem.

Harvard Medical School List Of Foods That Lower Cholesterol: 

Recommendation #3

Foods That Lower Your Cholesterol - Beans

3. Why BEANS Aren’t The Answer…

Beans are the clear winner in the fiber category. Compared to the oats and banana’s 3 grams of fiber, beans in equal measure deliver about 10 grams of fiber. 

But when you compare the carbohydrate load, beans are equal with oats. Same sugar burden, but better fiber content. Harvard tells us because beans digest slowly we may receive the added bonus of “feeling full for longer after a meal.”  This is typical sugar-burner justification for continuing on a carbohydrate-focused way of eating. They cite the ‘feeling full longer’ as “useful food for folk (us) trying to lose weight.” 

"Feeling full is one thing. Being full…that’s a whole other sensation."

Barbara McDermott

Feeling full is one thing. Being full…that’s a whole other sensation. Not one of us would even be reading this blog nor the Harvard Medical website article if we experienced true fullness which is real satiety more often than not. With no cravings, a reduced appetite, and therefore eating meals far less often. Then our weight and cholesterol would be a non-issue.

THAT is how to lower cholesterol. Just tap into the power of burning body fat and you’re on your way. Out of the woods of worry and woe. SHIFT from glucose-generating carbohydrate focused eating to no glucose-generating fat focused eating. 

And yes, pass on the beans.

Harvard Medical School List Of Foods That Lower Cholesterol: 

Recommendation #4

foods that lower cholesterol levels

4. Why EGGPLANT and OKRA Are Part Of The Answer…

Vegetables (finally) come in at 4th place in the Harvard Medical recommended foods for lower cholesterol. These are cited as “two low-calorie vegetables” that “are good sources of soluble fiber”. 

A 5th grader could argue that all vegetables, especially those that grow above ground, are low-calorie and good sources of fiber. One cup of both raw okra and raw eggplant serve up about 3 grams of fiber with only 2 grams of carbohydrate each. That’s the winning ticket. Foods that deliver more fiber than carbohydrate. BINGO! Any non-root, green vegetable checks off those two boxes. 

And if you’ve SHIFTed to a more fat-focused way of eating? Enjoy your vegetables with butter or olive oil. The natural fats in the butter and oil ensure absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients. A triple win.

Harvard Medical School List Of Foods That Lower Cholesterol:  

Recommendation #5

foods that lower triglycerides - Nuts

5. Why NUTS Might Be Part Of The Answer…

Harvard shares that “eating 2 oz. of nuts daily can slightly lower LDL.” 

First off, unless you have a kitchen scale or are quick on the draw with google, the 2 oz. quantity might surprise you. It’s roughly 46 whole almonds. 

Is eating 46 almonds a day worth the possibility of slightly lower LDL?

Nuts are health-promoting foods due to their natural fat content, high usable protein content and most importantly, lower carbohydrate content! The 2 oz. quantity of almonds deliver 28g fat,12g protein, 5g carbohydrate and 6g fiber. 

Why are nuts heart healthy? 

Of its components, which is the lowest value? Carbohydrate. Notice a recurring theme? Less carbohydrate, less blood sugar. Less carbohydrate, less triglycerides. Less carbohydrate, less inflammation. Less inflammation, less LDL being produced by our body for damage control.

Unless the nuts are roasted in highly inflammatory vegetable oil. (See Below…)

Harvard Medical School List Of Foods That Lower Cholesterol: 

Recommendation #6

best foods for high cholesterol - Vegetable Oil

6. VEGETABLE OILS

“All the same health experts and organizations warning us about high cholesterol levels and saturated fat, and telling us to add “healthy” whole grains into our diet, have also been actively promoting vegetable and seed oils including: corn, peanut, sesame, safflower, sunflower, and canola oils, to name a few. 

You also know them as the supposedly heart-healthy, omega-6, polyunsaturated fats. But make no mistake: they are among the most dangerous substances in the food supply you can put in your body.” 
Cholesterol Clarity, Jimmy Moore with Eric C. Westman, MD

Vegetable Oils aren’t made from vegetables. They are made from seeds (sunflower oil),  germs (corn oil…corn is a grain), and beans (soybean oil).  Subjected to heat and processing, the resulting oils are lacking stable saturated fat, have some less stable monounsaturated fat, and are heavy in polyunsaturated fat. 

The term “vegetable oil” is both confusing and misleading. Are they making oil from broccoli? Carrots? 

Vegetable oils are actually made from seeds (grape, sunflower, canola (rapeseed), flax….) germs (corn, since corn is a grain), and beans (soybean). Olive oil and coconut oil are not vegetable oils. They are made from fruit or, more accurately, drupes. Olives and coconuts are naturally comprised of saturated and monounsaturated fats. Saturated fats are the most stable when heated. 

Coconut oil is the wisest choice for cooking. Olive oil and its higher monounsaturated fats is best for dressings, dippings and drizzlings. 

Polyunsaturated fats are the least stable. And vegetable oils have the highest percentage of these problematic polyunsaturated fats. When heated, they generate free-radicals. Not a health move. Plus, vegetable oils are chemically modified fats created from some of the most genetically modified crops such as soy and corn. 

Inflammatory? Hell, yes. And as far as cholesterol goes, some studies casually link vegetable oils to a lessening total LDL. But the studies don’t expose any deeper truth like the damage vegetable oil does to LDL. Inflammation stoking foods damage delicate LDL.

Are we really supposed to be lowering cholesterol or simply improving cholesterol? And more importantly, are we really supposed to believe vegetable oils are good for us?

Harvard Medical School List Of Foods That Lower Cholesterol:  

Recommendation #7

diet to lower cholesterol - Apples

7. Why APPLES, GRAPES, STRAWBERRIES, CITRUS FRUITS Aren’t The Answer…

Like grain, fruit delivers far more carbohydrate/glucose/sugar for the wee bit of fiber you get. One medium apple puts 5 times more sugar than fiber into our body. Sure, we take in some 4 grams of pectin fiber but we also take in about 20 grams of carbohydrate or 5 teaspoons of sugar. This is why we say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor well paid.”

“An apple a day keeps the doctor well paid.”

Barbara McDermott

Fructose, the natural sugar in fruit, can only be metabolized by the liver. And the liver converts fructose directly into fat. 

Fructose raises triglycerides like no other food. To even suggest eating more fruit to improve health, in any way, is terribly irresponsible. Even if the meager amount of fiber does somehow reduce LDL, the fructose increases triglycerides!

Table sugar is 50% fructose. Honey is 55% fructose. High-fructose corn syrup runs 55% – 65% fructose depending on the brand. Agave can be as much as 92% fructose! And the Harvard Medical School recommended apple is 70% fructose. 

Fructose, among the other sugars, drives accelerated aging which is caused by internal rusting or oxidative damage which in turn stokes cholesterol production.

When it comes to fruit, less is more. Reach for berries. They have the lowest carbohydrate/sugar load and still delivers the fiber.

Harvard Medical School List Of Foods That Lower Cholesterol: 

Recommendation #8

best diet to lower cholesterol

8. Why FOODS FORTIFIED with STEROLs and STANOLS Aren’t The Answer…

Sterols and stanols? “Companies are adding them to foods ranging from margarine (crikes) and granola bars to orange juice and chocolate.” There’s so much here, I’m not sure where to begin with this #8. 

Let’s start by defining ‘sterols and stanols’ so that we can find them in the grocery store. Sterols and stanols are natural components of plant foods such as the ones mentioned in this Harvard advice article: fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. 

Their chemical structure (along with their name I might add) is a lot like cholesterol. This similar structure blocks our body’s ability to absorb cholesterol from food. This ‘cholesterol absorption blocking action’ is what “lowers cholesterol”. So, a body is less able to take in cholesterol. 

Crazy thing is, our body will simply compensate by making its own cholesterol. 

This is why we get exasperated following some medically prescribed cholesterol lowering diets. Our body just keeps on generating  the cholesterol it needs, despite our efforts to stop it. 

But, if you simply eat foods that don’t inflame or corrode, you’ll never need to concern yourself with cholesterol again. 

Do you see what I see? We, the confused cholesterol-crazed consumers are being targeted by companies who will profit big time by selling us, of all things, cholesterol stimulating foods with cholesterol lowering additives.

Is your cholesterol high? There’s no need to worry. Your doctor will be happy to prescribe statins.

Don’t walk, RUN!

Harvard Medical School List Of Foods That Lower Cholesterol: 

Recommendation #9

foods that lower bad cholesterol and raise good

9. Why SOY Isn’t The Answer…

When I hear soy, I think, “Oye”. 

Soy is a bit of a conundrum. It seemed to enjoy its time in the health food limelight only to end up surrounded by question marks. Even Harvard shares, “eating soybeans and foods made from them was once touted as a powerful way to lower cholesterol. Analyses show that the effect is more modest.“

Like all the other Harvard recommended foods to lower cholesterol, the power of reduction is a meager 5%. And it should be noted that every statistic uses the word “can” lower not “will” lower or “does” lower. 

All of these eating directives are shrouded beneath a giant “maybe”. 

Soy is one of the world’s most over processed food. It has an uncanny ability to mimic estrogen. Excess estrogen, whether produced by our own belly fat (carbohydrate is waist weight), or consumed in non-organic, naturally raised meats or phytoestrogens (similar to estrogen) from eating soy is not something any man or woman wants. 

Like Vegetable Oil, that soy is on Harvard Medical’s list of 11 Foods that Lower Cholesterol is beyond my understanding. 

Unless you know the source and quality, avoid soy.

Harvard Medical School List Of Foods That Lower Cholesterol: 

Recommendation #10

best cholesterol diet

10. Why FATTY FISH Is A Winner…

Finally… we have a winner fatty fish! 

Isn’t it interesting that a high cholesterol, high fat food is on the list of cholesterol lowering foods? 

But fatty fish are putting cholesterol into our body. How can that lower cholesterol if it’s adding more in??? Part of the answer lies in what fatty fish is not putting into our body. Carbohydrate. 

Wanna know how many carbohydrates are in fatty fish? There’s…Zero. Zip. None. 

Fatty fish delivers our body’s two most critical, essential macronutrients: fat and protein. 

Carbohydrate is not critical. Carbohydrate is not even essential. You read that right. Carbohydrate is not essential. Fat and protein are essential because the body can’t produce these two critical components. Carbohydrate, on the other hand is produced by the body. 

Wait, carbohydrate is made by our body? Yes. Glucose, the basic building block of all carbohydrate is made by our body. Glucose is generated from protein. We all could live a healthy, non-cholesterol chasing life is we simply ate to the universal principles of how our body operates. Fat and Protein with carbohydrate conditionally and in small amounts.

Here’s How Cholesterol Works

Consider this… 

Cholesterol is simply a form of fat serving specific fortifying functions. Our bloodstream is the fluid carrier of fuel to all the cells of our body. Our body operates on just two forms of fuel: glucose and fatty acids. 

Yes, we have glucose and fat flowing through our veins 24-7. It’s supposed to be that way. And it’s nothing to fear. Unless we unwittingly continue to dump more glucose into our bloodstream than our body can use or handle. 

Why Overconsumption of Carbohydrate Drives Cholesterol & Heart Disease

The problems arise when we over consume carbohydrate/glucose. Because glucose is only a fuel, whereas fatty acids play multiple roles in overall health, glucose in any amount above 1 teaspoon or 4 grams of carbohydrate is considered toxic and therefore undesirable to the body.

That means glucose must be dealt with first. This is why we are hard pressed to lose weight. AKA Use up body fat. 

But, we are told by the trusted experts to consume way more glucose than fat. That puts us predominantly in a state of elevated insulin due to the frequent blood sugar surges. Insulin drives blood sugar into fat storage. When insulin is elevated, body fat burning is disabled. Circulating blood sugar damages blood vessels. Cholesterol patches the damage. Then the elevated insulin, a growth hormone, triggers smooth muscle cells to grow over the cholesterol generated patch. This is atherosclerosis. 

No. Cholesterol does not clog and kill. Cholesterol saves lives. 

To say otherwise is either lazy reporting or agenda driven.

"There is BIG money in keeping us sick and craving carbohydrates."

Yes, there is BIG money in keeping us sick and craving carbohydrates. 

Getting rid of the very component our body makes to sustain our life is not the solution. Addressing the underlying issue is. 

The very foods that drive atherosclerosis, carbohydrates, are the very ones Harvard is telling us to consume more of.

Harvard Medical School List Of Foods That Lower Cholesterol: 

Recommendation #11

Foods That Lower Cholesterol - Fiber

11. Why FIBER SUPPLEMENTS Are Not The Answer…

As a last resort, Harvard Medical suggests a few fiber supplements. Any of those recommended will “provide about 4 grams of soluble fiber”. So, reaching the prescribed guideline of 20 – 35 grams of fiber a day seems a bit daunting. Especially since the majority of fiber rich foods they suggest also contribute a lot of blood sugar and inflammation raising carbohydrate. 

List of Foods that Lower Cholesterol Summary:

This all feels like a big game of chase.

Let’s stop going out of our way to eat foods on these lists of so-called cholesterol lowering foods. And many of these foods we may not even like but eat anyway for the ‘hope’ of lowering cholesterol. Which we now understand that most of these foods work against us.

Instead, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. 

Rather than focusing on fiber and cholesterol, we need simply focus on allowing natural fats to take center stage with carbohydrate playing a minor, supporting role. Downshifting carbohydrate consumption translates quite quickly into lower triglycerides, robust HDL, and a change of LDL from sugar-damaged and dense to healthy and larger as they are meant to be.

Forget about lowering cholesterol. 

Focus on lowering weight, blood sugar, and inflammation by improving cholesterol.

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2 Responses to List of Foods that Lower Cholesterol | Why Harvard Medical Has It WRONG

  1. Annie May 16, 2019 at 10:38 pm #

    Thank you very much.. very helpful

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