If you’ve ever searched online for how to lower your cholesterol, chances are, you’ve found lots of conflicting information. Some people argue that whole grains and lean proteins are best for improving cholesterol numbers, while others claim that carbs are the culprit.
Oatmeal is often recommended as a cholesterol-lowering food, but what does the research say? Learn more about oatmeal and how it impacts cholesterol below.
What Does High Cholesterol Mean?
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance with many essential functions in the body, but too much cholesterol can be harmful. If you’ve ever gotten your cholesterol blood work done, you’ve likely heard the terms LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and HDL (“good” cholesterol) (1).
When LDL cholesterol is too high, it can clog arteries and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke (1). It’s recommended for healthy adults to get their cholesterol levels checked every 4-6 years, but you may need to be monitored more frequently if you have a history of certain conditions (2).
Research shows that eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and plant proteins can significantly lower LDL cholesterol levels. On the other hand, eating too many refined grains, animal proteins, and saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels (3).
Is Oatmeal Good for Cholesterol?
If you’re wondering if oatmeal is good for cholesterol, the answer is a resounding yes! Oats are whole grains and contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol (4, 5).
Adding oatmeal to your diet can also replace typical breakfast foods that may raise cholesterol, like bacon, sausage, and eggs (3).
What exactly is soluble fiber? When you eat a food with soluble fiber, the fiber absorbs water in your digestive tract, giving it a sticky, gel-like texture. It can bind to cholesterol particles in your gut and helps your body eliminate them rather than absorb them (4, 5).
Beta-glucan is the type of soluble fiber naturally found in oats. It has many benefits, including reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels (5, 6)
Most Americans generally don’t eat enough fiber, much less soluble fiber. It is recommended to eat 20-35 grams of total fiber per day, with 10 grams coming from soluble fiber (4). Just one bowl of oatmeal (approximately 1.5 cups cooked) contains 3 grams of soluble fiber.
Oats are also an excellent source of whole grains. Whole grains are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, which have numerous health benefits. Research shows that people who regularly eat whole grains have a lower risk of heart disease when compared with people who don’t eat whole grains (7, 8).
When whole grains are refined, many of the beneficial nutrients are removed. Replacing refined grains with whole grains effectively reduces cholesterol, blood sugar, and inflammation (7, 8).
Protein and Fat
Research shows that the type of protein in oats may also help lower cholesterol because of the amino acid ratios present. The type of fat in oats, though minimal, is also thought to have some cholesterol-lowering action, though this is not well understood (9).
How Much Oatmeal Should I Eat Per Day to Lower Cholesterol?
Studies show that eating 3 grams per day of soluble fiber in the form of beta-glucan can lower LDL cholesterol levels by 5-10%. You can meet this recommendation by eating 1.5 cups of cooked oats daily (10).
You can enhance the benefits of eating oatmeal by adding cholesterol-lowering toppings, like blueberries and walnuts (11, 12).
How Quickly will Oatmeal Lower Cholesterol?
If you have concerns about your cholesterol levels, you may wonder how long it takes for oatmeal to start lowering cholesterol. Most studies show cholesterol levels improve after 4-6 weeks of eating oatmeal (6).
Consistency is key! Experiment with different recipes and cooking methods to keep that morning bowl of oats interesting.
Which Type of Oatmeal is Best?
There is a lot of confusion over which type of oatmeal is the best. Unprocessed oats are known as oat groats. These are processed in different ways to produce the varieties of oats we are most familiar with.
Rolled oats, steel cut, instant oats– which is the best type of oatmeal for cholesterol? Research shows that the different types of oats contain comparable amounts of protein and beta-glucan. In addition, all types of oats are whole grains (13).
This means that you can lower your cholesterol by eating any of the types of oats, though be mindful that the more processed oats become, the more added sugars and fats are present.
Learn more about the different types of oats and what to consider when choosing the best option for you.
Steel-cut oats are made by cutting the oat groats into halves or quarters (13). Out of the different types of oats, these take the longest to cook because they are minimally processed.
Studies show that less processed oats are more effective at lowering cholesterol than highly processed oats, making steel cut oats one of the best choices for improving your LDL numbers (14).
Rolled oats are made by steaming whole groats, then flattening them between a pair of rollers. They are one of the most popular types of oats consumed (13).
Though more processed than steel-cut oats, rolled oats still have comparable nutrition facts and health benefits.
Interestingly, research shows that cooking rolled oats with water starting at room temperature and heating to boil (versus adding the oats to boiling water) results in greater beta glucan availability (15).
Quick oats are made in a similar process to rolled oats but are rolled thinner, which reduces the cooking time. Though nutritionally similar to rolled oats, quick oats have a higher glycemic index, which means they will raise your blood sugar slightly more (13).
Instant oats are steamed at a higher temperature and rolled into very thin flakes to allow the oats to rehydrate in hot water quickly (13). Though instant oats still contain beta-glucan, they usually have added sugar, salt, and fat since they tend to come in pre-flavored packets.
Be mindful of reading the labels of instant oats, and look for options with minimal added flavorings.
Overnight oats have exploded in popularity in recent years. You may wonder if oatmeal must be cooked to lower cholesterol. In these recipes, the oats are soaked overnight in milk and then consumed raw the following day.
Not much research has been done on overnight oats and cholesterol, but one study looked at the difference in beta-glucan between raw and cooked oats when digestion was simulated in a test tube. It found that the beta-glucan in uncooked oats was more available for digestion, meaning they may have a more significant impact on cholesterol (16).
Cholesterol-Friendly Daily Oatmeal
- 1 cup rolled oats opt for organic if this is going to be your daily go-to breakfast
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 tsp salt
- toppings and sweetener of choice see notes
- In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil.
- Add the oats and reduce the heat to low.
- Simmer the oats for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they've absorbed most of the water and are creamy and tender.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat. Serve the oatmeal hot and add the sweetener and toppings of your choice, or eat it plain.