Heald, Barrett

Lowering your blood cholesterol: Dietary recommendations that work!
By Barrett Heald

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 71 million American adults (33.5%) have high LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol and less than half of these adults get treatment (2). Anyone can have high cholesterol, but the good thing about knowing you have high cholesterol, is there are ways to lower it. Factors that you can control like inactivity, obesity and an unhealthy diet are things that can lead to high cholesterol, but so can uncontrollable factors like your genetic makeup (4). Your doctor can prescribe medications, in addition to lifestyle changes, to help reduce your risk for heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

What is cholesterol?
The CDC says that the leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body and many foods that your body needs to work properly. If you have too much cholesterol in your blood it can build up inside your arteries and make it hard for blood to pass through. These cholesterol deposits, called plaque, which build up inside the arteries can block the arteries that carry blood to the heart and thus cause a heart attack. A heart attack can also happen when a deposit ruptures and causes a clot in a coronary artery (2).

Cholesterol is carried in the blood through two lipoproteins called low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to the plaque build-up in arteries leading to heart problems. HDL is the “good” cholesterol because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries carrying it back to the liver, where it is broken down and passed from the body (1). There is also very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), which contains the most triglycerides, a type of fat, and makes the LDL cholesterol bigger in size causing the blood vessels to narrow.

Factors you can change
Inactivity – Being physically inactive can cause you to be overweight and raise your bad cholesterol levels and lower your good cholesterol. Regular physical activity can help you lose weight and lower your blood cholesterol (5).

Overweight – Being overweight can increase your LDL levels and lower HDL levels. By losing weight you can lower the fat in your blood and increase your good HDL cholesterol.

Unhealthy diet – Three nutrients in your diet can make you LDL “bad” cholesterol higher, including saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Avoiding a diet containing these foods can help keep your blood cholesterol level lower.

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What foods you should eat to lower your cholesterol level
Avoid foods high in saturated fat, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol, which can raise blood cholesterol levels, butother types of fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can help lower blood cholesterol. Eating foods high in fiber can help lower cholesterol and eating too many carbohydrates and drinking alcohol can raise cholesterol (2).

Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation. Foods that give you polyunsaturated fats can directly lower LDL bad cholesterol, and foods containing plant sterols and stanols block the body from absorbing cholesterol (3). Good foods to keep in your diet are: oats, barley and other whole grains, beans, eggplant, okra, nuts, vegetable oils, apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits, foods fortified with sterols and stanols, soy, fatty fish and fiber supplements.

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In conclusion, what you eat directly affects your cholesterol levels. Making sure you keep your LDL cholesterol levels low and your HDL cholesterol levels higher is the most important thing in your diet. The main things to remember are to choose healthier fats, eliminate trans fats, limit dietary cholesterol, eats lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and heart healthy fish, and drink alcohol only in moderation (4).


1. American Heart Association

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

3. Harvard Health Publications

4. Mayo Clinic

5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services