7 Foods to avoid for a healthier cholesterol level

High cholesterol affects a significant portion of the American population, raising the risk of severe health issues like heart attacks and strokes [1]. 

Excess cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, where arteries become clogged with fatty deposits, hindering blood flow to vital organs. While medication and lifestyle changes are common treatments, adjusting your diet can also make a significant difference.

Experts recommend avoiding these seven foods for better cholesterol management [2]:

Coconut oil

While some tout its health benefits, the American Heart Association advises against its use due to its high saturated fat content. Research indicates that it can raise both good and bad cholesterol levels.

It’s best reserved for topical use on the skin rather than as a cooking ingredient. However, if you enjoy its distinct flavor and texture, it can be sparingly used in food for specific recipes, such as baked goods, as a flavorful indulgence rather than a health elixir.

Fried foods

Fried foods contain trans fats, which increase harmful cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Limit consumption of fried foods like fried chicken, doughnuts and french fries and check for partially hydrogenated oils on ingredient labels.

Full-fat dairy

High in saturated fats, full-fat dairy products like milk can hinder the body’s ability to clear out “bad” cholesterol. Opt for low-fat or fat-free options like yogurt to reduce saturated fat while getting essential nutrients.

Highly processed foods

Foods like smoked sausages and chips are high in unhealthy fats, salt and low in fiber, vitamins and minerals [3]. Opt for minimally processed options and whole foods to improve cardiovascular health.

Red meat

Beef, pork and lamb are rich in saturated fats, contributing to high cholesterol levels. While not necessary to eliminate, it’s wise to consume red meat sparingly and focus on alternative protein sources like beans, lentils and fish.


The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar intake to no more than 25 grams per day to promote heart health [4].

However, a single 12-ounce soda contains close to 40 grams of sugar, significantly exceeding this recommendation.

While occasional consumption is acceptable, reducing the frequency of soda and sugary candy intake is advisable, especially for individuals with existing risk factors for high cholesterol.

Skin-on meat

The skin of meats like chicken and turkey is also high in saturated fat. Choose lean protein sources like skinless poultry, fish, legumes and tofu to maintain muscle mass and support heart health.

Beyond dietary adjustments, experts emphasize other factors crucial for heart health:

  • Genetics: Cholesterol levels are influenced by genetics and how the body processes cholesterol. While dietary choices matter, genetic predispositions significantly affect cholesterol management.
  • High triglycerides: Dietary choices significantly affect triglyceride levels, which can elevate processed foods, fried foods and refined carbohydrates [5]. Incorporating fiber-rich foods like beans and whole grains can help lower triglycerides.
  • Lifestyle factors: Alongside diet, maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle involves regular exercise, sufficient sleep, tobacco cessation and managing medications effectively.
  • Medication: Medication may be necessary for some individuals to manage cholesterol levels effectively. Statins are commonly prescribed, but alternatives are available for those experiencing side effects or seeking alternatives.
  • Moderation: Occasional indulgences in less healthy foods are less impactful than overall dietary patterns. Focus on balanced eating habits rather than occasional treats.

By adopting a holistic approach to heart health, including dietary modifications, lifestyle changes and medical interventions when necessary, individuals can better manage their cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

[1] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/symptoms-causes/syc-20350800
[2] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/high-cholesterol-worst-foods_l_65b9488ae4b05c8779f6675e
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5474906/
[4] https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much
[5] https://www.cuh.nhs.uk/patient-information/dietary-advice-for-management-of-high-triglycerides/

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.