Many different types of drinks contain compounds that may help reduce cholesterol levels or healthfully maintain them, such as oat and soy drinks.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance the body uses to make cells and hormones. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) are two different kinds of cholesterol. When cholesterol levels are unhealthful, it increases the risk of serious health conditions, such as stroke or heart attacks.
This article discusses drinks that may help control cholesterol levels, as well as drinks to avoid. It also lists alternative approaches that may be useful for people who wish to achieve more healthful cholesterol levels.
Many types of drinks can help lower or control cholesterol levels. These include:
1. Green tea
In a 2015 study, scientists gave rats drinking water infused with catechins and epigallocatechin gallate, another beneficial antioxidant in green tea. After 56 days, scientists noticed cholesterol and “bad” LDL levels had reduced by around 14.4% and 30.4% in the two groups of rats on high-cholesterol diets.
Black tea can also have a positive impact on cholesterol, but to a lesser extent than its green variant. This is mainly because different amounts of catechins in the teas mean that the body absorbs liquid differently.
Additionally, caffeine can also help raise HDL levels.
2. Soy milk
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend consuming 25 grams (g) per day of soy protein as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol to help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Other authorities recommend consuming 2–3 servings of soy-based foods or drinks daily, with one serving representing 250 milliliters (ml) of soy milk.
3. Oat drinks
Oats contain beta-glucans, which create a gel-like substance in the gut and interact with bile salts, reducing cholesterol absorption.
A 2018 review found that oat drinks, such as oat milk, may offer a more consistent reduction in cholesterol than semi-solid or solid oat products.
For maximum benefit, try consuming around 3 g per day of beta-glucans, which can lead to a 7% reduction in LDL. One cup of oat milk can provide up to 1.3 g of beta-glucans.
Make sure to check oat drink labels to ensure they contain beta-glucans, which may appear as part of the fiber information, and how much they include per serving.
4. Tomato juice
In addition, research suggests processing tomatoes into juice increases their lycopene content.
Tomato juice is also rich in cholesterol-reducing fiber and niacin.
A 2015 study found that 25 women who drank 280 ml of tomato juice daily for 2 months experienced a reduction in blood cholesterol levels. The participants were aged 20–30 years and had body mass index scores of at least 20.
5. Berry smoothies
Many berries are rich in antioxidants and fiber, both of which may help reduce cholesterol levels.
In particular, anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant agent in berries, can help improve cholesterol levels.
Berries are also low in calories and fat.
Make a berry smoothie by blending two handfuls — around 80 g — of any berry. Combine the berries with 1/2 cup of low fat milk or yogurt and 1/2 cup of cold water.
Examples of especially healthful berries include:
6. Drinks containing sterols and stanols
Sterols and stanols are plant chemicals similar in shape and size to cholesterol that block the absorption of some cholesterol.
However, vegetables and nuts contain low levels of sterols and stanols that cannot lower cholesterol.
Companies are adding these chemicals to several foods and drinks, including fortified yogurt drinks, milk, and fruit juices.
The FDA state that most people should try to consume 1.3 g or more of sterols and 3.4 g of stanols per day.
Try to consume these sterols and stanols with a meal.
7. Cocoa drinks
Cocoa is the main ingredient in dark chocolate. It contains antioxidants called flavanols that may improve cholesterol levels.
A 2015 study found that consuming a 450 mg drink containing cocoa flavanols twice daily for 1 month lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol levels while increasing “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
Cocoa contains high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, which can also help improve cholesterol levels.
However, drinks containing processed chocolate have high levels of saturated fats. People looking for healthful options may wish to choose pure cocoa drinks.
8. Plant milk smoothies
Many types of plant-based milk contain ingredients that may help lower or control cholesterol levels.
A person can make a suitable smoothie base using soy milk or oat milk.
Make a soy or oat smoothie by blending 1 cup (250 ml) of soy or oat milk with cholesterol-lowering fruits or vegetables, such as:
- 1 banana
- 1 handful of grapes or prunes
- 1 slice of mango or melon
- 2 small plums
- 1 cup of kale or Swiss chard
- 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
Some research has found that low-to-moderate alcohol consumption could be more beneficial in terms of heart health than not drinking at all.
Moderate alcohol consumption seems to increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels. Moderate consumption involves drinking up to 1 alcoholic drink per day for females and up to 2 for males.
The impact that alcohol can have on cholesterol levels depends largely on factors including how much someone drinks, their age and sex, and the type of alcohol they consume.
However, heavy drinking increases cholesterol, and consuming alcohol carries so many health risks that its negative effects likely outweigh its benefits.
People who wish to improve their cholesterol levels or maintain healthful levels may wish to avoid drinks high in saturated fats, such as:
- coffees or teas with added cream, whipped cream, high fat milk, or creamer
- drinks or smoothies containing coconut or palm oils
- pressed coconut drinks
- ice cream-based drinks
- high fat milk products
Drinking more than 12 ounces of sugary drinks per day may also reduce HDL levels and increase triglyceride levels, or levels of fat in the bloodstream.
Examples of sugary drinks include:
Several behavioral changes or habits can help lower cholesterol levels, such as:
- limiting eating foods high in saturated fats, such as:
- animal products
- tropical oils
- baked goods
- fried foods
- processed foods
- limiting consumption of foods high in sugar
- getting at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise per week
- eating healthful foods, including:
- fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
- lean meats in moderation
- nuts in moderation
- vegetable oils
- fat-free or low fat dairy products
- increasing fiber intake
- quitting smoking
- treating or managing type 2 diabetes
- maintaining a healthful or moderate body weight
- staying hydrated
Doctors can also prescribe medications, for example, statins, to help keep cholesterol levels healthful.
High levels of circulating cholesterol can trigger higher health risks.
However, there is more than one kind of cholesterol.
LDL can be a “bad” type of cholesterol because it can accumulate on the inner lining of blood vessels, forming plaque. As plaque progresses, it can narrow blood vessels, reducing how much blood the vessels can carry.
Plaque buildup is especially dangerous when it forms in arteries supplying vital organs such as the brain or heart. Narrowed arteries also increase the risk of a blood clot or other substances becoming stuck in them. This can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
HDL can be a “good” type of cholesterol. It absorbs circulating cholesterol and returns it to the liver for excretion.
To stay healthful, most people need to limit or reduce their levels of LDL and increase their HDL levels. This helps ensure they have enough HDL circulating to keep LDL levels in check.
Foods rich in unsaturated fat can help the body absorb HDL, while those high in saturated and trans fats increase LDL in the blood.
Most adults over the age of 20 years should contact a doctor to check their cholesterol levels roughly every 5 years. This can help ensure they are within healthful levels.
Optimal levels of cholesterol consist of:
- less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) for total cholesterol
- less than 100 mg/dl for LDL cholesterol
- more 40 mg/dl for HDL cholesterol
Maintaining healthful cholesterol levels is vital to overall health, in particular, cardiovascular health.
Several drinks contain chemicals and compounds that may help improve these levels. They include:
- oat and soy milk
- tomato juice
- green tea
- cocoa drinks
- drinks fortified with sterols and stanols
However, there is no quick-fix way to reduce cholesterol levels. It may take weeks or months for lifestyle or dietary changes to have an effect.