Foods that Can Help Lower Cholesterol in Adults

Diet can have a strong influence on blood cholesterol levels. Even when taking cholesterol-lowering medication, changes to the diet can help lower cholesterol. Daily exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are also important.

Food labels can help when choosing foods to reduce cholesterol levels. Look for foods that are low in saturated fat, low in cholesterol, and high in fiber. For more information on food labels, see Nutrition Facts. For more about how foods influence heart health, see Fiber and Heart Disease.

Food Basket - PhotodiscFoods that can help to lower cholesterol include the following:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Whole-grain, high-fiber breads and cereals such as:
    • Oatmeal
    • High-fiber breakfast cereals (with 2.5 grams or more fiber per serving)
    • Whole-grain breads (with 2.5 grams or more of fiber per serving)
    • Brown rice
    • Legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas

Fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains contain soluble fiber. This type of fiber helps block cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. To find out how much fiber a food contains, read the Nutrition Facts label.

Most fruits and vegetables have 1-3 grams of soluble fiber per serving. It is recommended that people who have high cholesterol get a total of at least 25 grams of fiber each day.

When cooking at home, use vegetable-based oils such as canola, olive, soybean, safflower, or corn oils. The mono- and poly-unsaturated fats in these oils may actually help to lower cholesterol, when used in moderation and when saturated fats are limited.

Foods that can raise cholesterol levels include saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats. Saturated fat and cholesterol are usually found together in foods that come from animal sources. The following foods have saturated fat and cholesterol in differing amounts:

  • Milk (except skim or non-fat)
  • Ice cream
  • Butter - BananaStockButter
  • Sour cream
  • Cream cheese
  • Yogurt (except non-fat)
  • Eggs
  • Meats, poultry, shellfish, and fish

Trans fats (hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils) are found in:

  • Stick margarine
  • Some peanut butters
  • Most microwave popcorn
  • Many pastries and other bakery items
  • Many crackers, cookies, and chips
  • Fast food French fries, fried chicken, and breaded chicken patties

The total amount of saturated fat in the diet should not exceed 7% of the total daily calories (about 15 grams of saturated fat per day for a 2000 calorie diet). Use Nutrition Facts labels to help choose foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

To reduce saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet:

  • Limit meat and poultry servings to 6 ounces or 1/3 of a pound.
  • Choose lean cuts of beef (cuts with "loin" in the name or 90% lean ground beef).
  • Remove the skin from poultry before eating.
  • Eat fish, such as salmon, trout, and herring 1-2 times per week.
  • Limit or avoid shellfish.
  • Substitute legumes for meat 2-3 times per week.
  • Drink low-fat or non-fat milk instead of whole or 2% milk.
  • Substitute plain low- or non-fat yogurt for sour cream.
  • Try non-fat, frozen yogurt instead of ice cream.
  • Limit butter and avoid stick margarine. (Or use a special margarine that is made with plant stanols and sterols and is trans fat free such as Benechol® or Take Control®.)

Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish due to potentially high levels of mercury. Talk with a health care provider or registered dietician about the safety of fish in the diet.

Another type of fat to avoid or strictly limit is trans fat, which comes from hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils. Trans fats raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good) cholesterol. Avoid foods that contain hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils and choose foods made with healthier unsaturated fats such as canola, olive, soybean, safflower, and corn oils.

When eating out, ask for information about how the food is prepared. Choose foods that are steamed, baked, grilled, roasted, poached, or broiled, and request that the food is prepared with a vegetable oil such as olive, canola, or corn oil.

Avoid dishes that are fried, au gratin, sautéed, or stuffed because these are usually high in fat and calories. Limit fast-food restaurants and use the following tips:

  • Choose a side salad or fruit cup instead of French fries.
  • Eat only one side of the sandwich bun.
  • Choose chicken over beef (broiled or grilled chicken tends to be lower in fat than beef; avoid breaded or fried chicken).
  • Don't "super-size" the meal or double the meat.
  • Avoid mayo or salad dressing or reduce the amount used (or use non-fat dressings).
  • Choose water, non-fat milk, or a diet soft drink.

Maintaining a healthy weight and getting daily exercise can also help reduce cholesterol levels. Have cholesterol levels checked regularly by a health care provider.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Mar 2007

Last Modified: 14 Sep 2011