10 Best and worst foods for high cholesterol

Understanding the role of diet in managing cholesterol is crucial for maintaining good health. Cholesterol, a substance in your blood, is essential for building healthy cells.

However, high levels of cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease, making it important to know what to eat and what to avoid.

At the heart of this discussion are two types of cholesterol: LDL, often labeled as ‘bad’ because it contributes to fatty buildups in arteries, and HDL, known as ‘good’ cholesterol due to its role in carrying cholesterol back to the liver where it’s flushed from the body. Striking the right balance between these types is key.

What is a brief understanding of cholesterol?

Cholesterol, a waxy substance in your blood, is vital for building healthy cells. But there’s a catch: too much cholesterol can lead to heart problems. Think of it as a balancing act between LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). 

LDL, often labeled ‘bad’ cholesterol, can clog arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke [1]. HDL, known as ‘good’ cholesterol, helps remove other forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Your body needs cholesterol, but balance is key.
  • LDL leads to plaque buildup in arteries; too much is a health risk.
  • HDL helps keep arteries clear and reduces health risks.

Your diet, exercise habits, and genetics all play a role in determining your cholesterol levels. Simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference in keeping this balance right. Remember, managing cholesterol isn’t just about avoiding the bad; it’s also about boosting the good.

What should I eat if my cholesterol is high?

Managing high cholesterol often starts at the dining table. What you eat can significantly impact your cholesterol levels, tipping the scales between LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). Let’s dive into five power-packed foods to help keep your cholesterol in check.

1. Oats and whole grains 

Starting your day with oats and whole grains is a smart move for managing cholesterol. Oats are a powerhouse of soluble fiber, particularly beta-glucan, which helps reduce LDL, the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol. 

This fiber prevents cholesterol absorption by binding to it in the intestines. Whole grains like barley and quinoa are equally beneficial.

They’re not just nutritious but also incredibly versatile. Here’s how you can easily incorporate them into your diet:

  • Swap your regular breakfast cereal for a warm, comforting bowl of oatmeal.
  • Add barley to soups for extra heartiness.
  • Experiment with quinoa in salads or as a side dish.

These simple switches can have a big impact on your cholesterol levels.

oats and whole grains

2. Fatty fish

Fatty fish are true champions when it comes to boosting heart health. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, they are essential in managing cholesterol levels. 

Omega-3s reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and increase HDL, the ‘good’ cholesterol [2].

Regular consumption of fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines can make a noticeable difference. Including these in your diet isn’t just healthy, it’s also delicious:

  • Grill or bake salmon fillets for a simple yet elegant meal.
  • Add sardines to salads for a quick protein boost.
  • Swap out your usual chicken or beef for mackerel to keep things interesting.

Eating fish twice weekly is a tasty way to keep your heart healthy and cholesterol in check.

3. Nuts

Packed with mono- and polyunsaturated fats, they’re great at keeping blood vessels healthy and lowering bad cholesterol. 

Almonds, walnuts, and other nuts also offer a good dose of fiber. But remember, while they’re nutritious, they’re also calorie-dense, so moderation is key. Here’s how you can smartly include them in your diet:

  • Sprinkle almonds over your morning oatmeal or yogurt.
  • Keep a small bag of mixed nuts for a quick, healthy snack.
  • Add chopped walnuts to your salads for extra crunch.

These small additions can make a big difference in managing cholesterol and boosting your overall heart health.

4. Avocado

Avocado is a superfood that’s as delicious as it is good for your heart. Rich in monounsaturated fats, it helps lower bad cholesterol while raising the good.

Additionally, it is a rich source of beta-sitosterol, a plant sterol that lowers the quantity of cholesterol absorbed through diet. It is quite flexible in the kitchen due to its neutral flavor and creamy texture.

  • Spread avocado on whole grain toast for a nutrient-packed breakfast.
  • Dice it into salads or blend it into smoothies for an extra health kick.
  • Use it as a substitute for mayonnaise or butter in sandwiches and baking.

Adding avocado to your diet is a tasty, effortless way to boost your heart health and manage cholesterol.

5. Fruits rich in soluble fiber 

Fruits high in soluble fiber can be a delicious way to control cholesterol levels naturally. Soluble fiber, found in apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus fruits, is key in reducing cholesterol absorption in your bloodstream. 

This type of fiber binds with cholesterol in the digestive system, helping to remove it from the body. These fruits are not just health allies; they’re also incredibly versatile:

  • Enjoy a crisp apple or a bunch of grapes as a refreshing snack.
  • Toss strawberries into your morning cereal or yogurt.
  • Add a citrus twist to your salads, or drink fresh orange juice.

Including these fruits in your daily diet is a delicious way to keep cholesterol levels in check while satisfying your sweet tooth [3].

What are the worst foods for high cholesterol?

While it’s essential to know what to eat to manage high cholesterol, it’s equally important to be aware of foods that impact your cholesterol levels negatively. Here are the top five culprits you might want to limit or avoid:

1. Processed meats

Processed meats, like sausages, bacon, and hot dogs, might be convenient and tasty [4], but they pose a risk to your heart health.

They’re often high in saturated fats, which can raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and are also loaded with sodium and preservatives.

Overconsumption can lead to increased heart disease risk. To reduce their impact on your cholesterol:

  • Choose lean meats or fish as healthier alternatives.
  • Try plant-based proteins for a change.
  • Treat processed meats as an occasional indulgence, not a daily diet staple.

Small changes in your meat choices can significantly affect managing cholesterol.

2. Fried foods

Foods like French fries, fried chicken, and doughnuts are high in trans fats created during the frying process.

These fats are notorious for increasing LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreasing HDL (good cholesterol). To enjoy your meals without compromising heart health:

  • Opt for baking or air frying as healthier cooking methods.
  • Use healthier oils like olive or avocado oil for light sautéing.
  • Treat fried foods as occasional indulgences rather than regular diet staples.

Making these simple swaps can significantly lower the impact on your cholesterol levels.

3. Full-fat dairy products

Full-fat dairy products, such as whole milk, cheese, and cream, can be tricky in a cholesterol-conscious diet.

They’re rich in saturated fats, which can elevate LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. However, dairy is also an important source of nutrients. The key is to choose wisely:

  • Opt for low-fat or fat-free versions of milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • Use yogurt instead of cream in recipes for a healthier twist.
  • Enjoy cheese in moderation and select lower-fat varieties.

Incorporating these changes allows you to enjoy the benefits of dairy without the added risk to your cholesterol levels.

4. Fast food

It is the go-to option for many due to its convenience, but it’s a costly choice for heart health. These meals are often loaded with trans fats, saturated fats, and excess calories, all of which can increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and put you at risk for heart disease.

Burgers, fried chicken, and pizza are typical examples. To make fast food a healthier choice:

  • Limit your intake and choose healthier menu options when available.
  • Pick grilled items over fried ones.
  • Balance a fast-food meal with healthier food choices throughout the rest of your day [5].

Mindful choices can reduce the impact of fast food on your cholesterol levels.

fast food

5. Baked foods

For people managing their cholesterol levels, baked goods and sweets can be tempting, but they contain a lot of sugar, which can harm their health.

Cakes, cookies, and pastries often contain trans and saturated fats, contributing to higher LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. 

These fats are used to enhance texture and prolong shelf life, but they can harm heart health. To enjoy these treats more responsibly:

  • Bake at home, using healthier fats like canola oil or applesauce.
  • Choose whole-grain flour over refined white flour.
  • Savor these sweets in moderation, balancing them with healthier food choices.

Indulging smartly allows you to enjoy life’s sweet moments without compromising your cholesterol levels.

Closing thoughts

Managing cholesterol is a significant step towards a healthier life, and much of it starts with what’s on your plate.

Remember, high cholesterol doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Small, consistent changes in your diet can improve your cholesterol levels and overall heart health.

Your journey to better heart health is personal, and every small step counts. Share your experiences or join a community of like-minded individuals striving for healthier lives. Together, let’s make heart health a priority and enjoy a life full of flavor and wellness.

FAQs

What are the 5 worst foods for cholesterol?

The five worst foods for cholesterol are processed meats, fried foods, full-fat dairy products, fast food, and sugary baked goods, as they are high in trans and saturated fats.

What is the best food to eat when your cholesterol is high?

Oats and whole grains are among the best foods to eat for high cholesterol due to their high soluble fiber content, which helps lower LDL cholesterol.

What 10 foods lower cholesterol?

Ten foods that can help lower cholesterol are oats, whole grains, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, nuts such as almonds and walnuts, avocados, fruits rich in soluble fiber like apples and berries, legumes, soy products, garlic, and olive oil.

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm
[2] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/cholesterol/art-20045192
[3] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/13-foods-that-lower-cholesterol-levels
[4] https://sentientmedia.org/processed-meats/
[5] https://njaes.rutgers.edu/fs1091/

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.