Cholesterol Lowering Foods – Oats and Barley

8th August 2016

Oats, barley and cholesterol

High blood cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Oats and barley contain a type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan that can help to lower blood cholesterol levels. Studies show that an intake of at least 3g beta glucans per day is needed for the cholesterol lowering effects. Such intakes can be achieved by consuming 2-4 portions of oat-based products a day (e.g. porridge oats, breakfast cereals, breads and crackers). Click here to learn about the different types of oats available. Other foods that contain soluble fibre include linseeds (flaxseeds), fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance known as a lipid and is essential for the normal functioning of the body. It is also needed to make vitamin D, some hormones, and bile acids, which help the gut digest and absorb dietary fat. It is mainly made by the liver but can also be found in some foods such as eggs and prawns. However, the cholesterol found in food has much less of an effect on the level of cholesterol in your blood compared with the amount of saturated fat you eat.

Good and bad cholesterol explained

Cholesterol is carried in your blood by proteins. When the two combine, they’re called lipoproteins. The two main types of lipoprotein are:

  • HDL (high density lipoprotein): known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it carries cholesterol away from cells and back to the liver to be broken down.
  • LDL (low density lipoprotein): known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to parts of the body that need it, but if there’s too much in the blood, it can lead to fatty deposits developing in the arteries (tubes or vessels carrying blood from the heart to all parts of the body), which can restrict the flow of blood to the heart and brain, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke (caused when the blood supply is restricted to part of the brain). The risk is particularly high if you have a high level of bad cholesterol and a low level of good cholesterol.

Why is managing cholesterol important?

Too much cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of getting heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases. Maintaining normal blood cholesterol levels plays an important role in reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of cardiovascular disease and is the UK’s single biggest killer. About one in seven men and one in eleven women die from the disease, but in many cases it’s preventable by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

How to reduce cholesterol?

With around half of all heart attacks in the UK being caused by high cholesterol levels in the blood, a healthy, balanced diet, combined with an active lifestyle, as well as other lifestyle changes such as giving up smoking and cutting back on alcohol intake, are important to help reduce your risk. We should all be eating a healthy, balance of foods to keep our hearts healthy – and foods like fibre-rich whole grains such as oats and barley can help.

More on cholesterol via NHS Choices website

More on cholesterol via British Heart Foundation website

More on cholesterol via Heart UK website

Recipes – the tasty way to managing cholesterol

Oats and barley are so versatile, they can be used to make a host of tasty dishes. Here are a few simple recipes using oats and barley:


Heather Honey Porridge

Porridge with Honey and Almonds


Oat Topped Mackerel Recipe with Roast Tomatoes

Oat Topped Mackerel with Roast Tomatoes


Oat Coated Pork with Spicy Mushroom Sauce Recipe

Oat Coated Pork with Spicy Mushroom Sauce


Baked Barley & Butternut Squash Risotto Recipe

Baked Barley & Butternut Squash Risotto

Whole Grain Goodness