Harvard Heart Letter

Whole-grain oats: Best bet for lowering cholesterol

Image: Thinkstock

Research we're watching

Want to nudge down your cholesterol level? Try a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. New research adds to earlier evidence that among the whole grains, oats are the most effective choice when it comes to lowering cholesterol.

The findings were gleaned from 24 studies that looked at blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) in people who ate diets featuring whole-grain foods versus non-whole-grain control diets. Compared with the control diets, whole-grain diets lowered total cholesterol levels by an average of 4.6 points. Diets featuring oats proved to be slightly superior, dropping cholesterol levels by 6.5 points, on average. An added bonus: whole-grain diets don't appear to lower beneficial HDL cholesterol. The report appeared in the September 2015 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

To eat more whole-grain oats, try the steel-cut version (also called Irish oats), which is oats chopped into small pieces. Or opt for the more popular rolled or old-fashioned oats, which are steamed and rolled into thin flakes. If you're not keen on hot cereal, consider a cold cereal made from oat bran. You can also grind rolled oats in a blender and add them to baked goods, soups, and casseroles.