What Can You Eat on a Low Cholesterol Diet?

Medically Reviewed on 7/6/2022
what can you eat on a low cholesterol diet
Being mindful about what you eat can lower your cholesterol. Here are 10 foods to include in a low cholesterol diet

Being mindful about what you eat can lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Foods to include in a low cholesterol diet include those that lower bad cholesterol or low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and increase good cholesterol or high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

12 foods to eat on a low cholesterol diet

  1. Whole grains: Whole grains are rich sources of soluble fiber, which removes bad cholesterol or LDL cholesterol from the body. Examples of heart-healthy whole grains include oats, brown rice, quinoa, bran, and barley.
  2. Beans and legumes: Beans and legumes are also high in soluble fiber and make you feel full for longer because they take more time to digest. This helps reduce snacking and unnecessary calorie intake.
  3. Fish: Fish is a good source of protein and is low in saturated fat. Some varieties of fish, such as salmon, fresh canned tuna, and sardines, also contain omega-3 fatty acid, which is good for the heart.
  4. Nuts: Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pecans can lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. However, since nuts are high in calories, it is recommended to take not more than a handful of nuts per day.
  5. Seeds: Chia seeds and flax seeds may lower LDL cholesterol and are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  6. Oil: Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and improves good cholesterol levels.
  7. Apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits: Fruits are rich in soluble fiber, and they prevent the digestive tract from absorbing cholesterol.
  8. Dairy: Milk is a rich source of proteins and fat. Since milk products such as cheese contain high amounts of fat, it’s best to choose low-fat versions. 
  9. Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate (70%) is known to reduce LDL cholesterol, decrease high blood pressure, and improve blood flow to the brain.
  10. Red wine: According to some studies, moderate intake of red wine may be good for the heart since it contains antioxidants that can increase the levels of good cholesterol while lowering bad cholesterol.
    • The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily wine consumption to 2 glasses for men or 1 glass for women, although you shouldn’t start drinking wine just for these proposed benefits.
  11. Eggplant and okra: These two low-calorie vegetables are good sources of soluble fiber.
  12. Fiber supplements: Supplements offer the least appealing way to get soluble fiber. 
    • Two teaspoons a day of psyllium, which is found in Metamucil and other bulk-forming laxatives, provide about 4 grams of soluble fiber.

What is good and bad cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance present in most of the body’s cells, which is essential to produce hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D. Cholesterol is produced naturally by the liver, and dietary intake contributes significantly to cholesterol production. 

However, an excess amount of cholesterol is bad for the body because it builds up inside the blood vessels, causing them to become narrower and decreasing the blood flow. This can lead to heart attacks, peripheral artery diseases, and strokes

Cholesterol is categorized as bad or good: or low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and good cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

  • Bad or LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol molecules and builds up in the walls of blood vessels. This increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes because it decreases the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the cells.
  • Good or HDL cholesterol removes bad cholesterol from the body, driving LDL from the bloodstream to the liver, where LDL is broken down and then eliminated from the body. This reduces the buildup of bad cholesterol in the organs and protects the heart.
  • Triglycerides are another type of fat. While different from cholesterol, it also thickens arterial walls, leading to heart diseases. Calories that were not used by the body may be converted into triglycerides.


How to Lower Your Cholesterol & Save Your Heart See Slideshow

What are normal, high, low cholesterol levels?

The American Heart Association recommends getting your cholesterol levels checked every 4-6 years after age 20. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, cholesterol levels are classified as follows:

  • Total cholesterol
    • Acceptable levels: Lower than 170 mg/dL
    • Borderline: 170 to 199 mg/dL
    • High: 200 or higher
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol
    • Acceptable levels: Higher than 45 mg/dL
    • Borderline: 40 to 45 mg/dL
    • Low: Lower than 40 mg/dL
  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol
    • Acceptable levels: Lower than 110 mg/dL
    • Borderline: 110 to 129 mg/dL
    • High: Higher than 130 mg/dL

In people with diabetes, the cut-off levels are lower. Talk to your doctor about cholesterol levels suitable for your age and overall health.

High cholesterol does not cause specific symptoms unless complications occur. So regular blood work is recommended especially for older people and patients with comorbidities, such as type I or type II diabetes.

What causes high cholesterol?

Cholesterol levels increase when you eat foods rich in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats. Factors that contribute to high levels of cholesterol in the body include:

  • Eating an unhealthy diet, such as foods rich in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats
  • Lifestyle and habits, such as smoking and inactivity
  • Genetic disorders affecting the process of fats and cholesterol that may run in the family (familial hypercholesterolemia)
  • Other comorbidities, such as diabetes, renal disease, or hypothyroidism

How can you lower cholesterol?

Cholesterol levels can be reduced through lifestyle modifications, such as:

  • Dietary changes
  • Avoiding red meat
  • Regular exercise
  • Reducing tobacco use and alcohol intake

If you have high cholesterol, your doctors may also prescribe medications to lower your blood cholesterol to reduce the risk of complications.

Medically Reviewed on 7/6/2022
The University of California. Guidelines for a Low Cholesterol, Low Saturated Fat Diet. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/guidelines-for-a-low-cholesterol-low-saturated-fat-diet

American Heart Association. Cooking to Lower Cholesterol. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/prevention-and-treatment-of-high-cholesterol-hyperlipidemia/cooking-to-lower-cholesterol

Cleveland Clinic. Heart Healthy Eating to Help Lower Cholesterol Levels. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17281-heart-healthy-eating-to-help-lower-cholesterol-levels