Low Cholesterol Diet for Beginners: What to Eat, Avoid and More

Published on July 6, 2022 and last updated for accuracy on July 16, 2022
Low Cholesterol Diet for Beginners: What to Eat, Avoid and More

An individual’s diet is a significant factor in determining how healthy their cholesterol levels are. Consuming foods that help keep cholesterol levels within a healthy range can assist in the prevention of a variety of health problems, including a coronary attack or a stroke. (1)

Cholesterol is a waxy molecule carried through the bloodstream as a component of two distinct lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). (1)

Because it contributes to the accumulation of fatty deposits in the body’s arteries, LDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. These deposits can obstruct blood flow, leading to cardiac arrest or a stroke. (1)

HDL cholesterol, also known as “good” cholesterol, works with the liver to excrete excess cholesterol from the body. It has been shown that having a healthy amount of HDL cholesterol can lower the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. (1)

There are several functions that cholesterol is responsible for, some of which are described below:

  • creating bile salts to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • creating vitamin D
  • producing sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone
  • producing steroid hormones, such as cortisol

On the other side, having high cholesterol in the blood can lead to various health complications, including hypertension and atherosclerosis. Make the necessary adjustments to your diet and reduce the amount of cholesterol you consume if you want to bring your cholesterol level down or maintain it at the level it should be. (1)

This page describes what causes high cholesterol, what foods should be avoided, and what options there are for foods and meals that are lower in cholesterol. (1)

What are the different types of cholesterol?

As cholesterol moves through the body, it attaches itself to various proteins at various points along its path. A mixture of waxy substances and proteins is referred to as a lipoprotein. (1)

There are many different types of attachments that lipoproteins can have; however, the two most frequent forms of cholesterol are:

  • LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol, is a subtype of cholesterol. LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. Utilizing this system, the liver’s cholesterol can be sent to other body parts where it can be used. An accumulation of LDL cholesterol in the arteries and veins can lead to a constriction of the blood vessels and a reduction in the flow of blood through them. Elevated LDL cholesterol is linked to an increased likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. (1)
  • High-density lipoprotein cholesterol is considered the “good” cholesterol (HDL). It removes cholesterol from the body and transports it to the liver, which is responsible for breaking it down so that it may be removed from the body as waste. There is a correlation between high HDL levels and a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. (1)

What is the root cause of elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels?

A person’s genetic make-up of a person can affect the amount of cholesterol found in their blood. As a direct consequence of the excessive creation of LDL cholesterol, specific individuals have abnormally high cholesterol levels in their blood. This condition is referred to as hypercholesterolemia. This condition is referred to in medical circles as genetic or familial hypercholesterolemia. (1)

The cholesterol levels in a person’s blood can be influenced by various factors related to their way of life. It has been established that ingesting meals high in cholesterol can increase the quantity of cholesterol found in the blood. (1)

The following foods include them:

  • Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in white bread and pasta, are refined carbs and should be avoided.
  • Foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat, whole milk, and processed foods, are all included in this category.
  • Foods high in trans fat include fried and highly processed foods such as crackers and cookies.

Smoking tobacco products and inactivity are some lifestyle factors that may contribute to elevated cholesterol. (2)

There are several medical disorders that can produce high cholesterol.

  • diabetes
  • hypothyroidism
  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • lupus
  • polycystic ovary syndrome

Ways to lower cholesterol

Individuals who want to lower their cholesterol levels might do so by making certain adjustments to the habits they follow daily. (2)

The following are a few of these tactics:

  • avoiding tobacco — smoking is associated with adverse lipoprotein profiles
  • eating enough fiber, particularly soluble fiber
  • maintaining a moderate body mass index
  • regular physical activity
  • reducing the consumption of foods high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat

Consumption of soluble fiber has been proven to reduce cholesterol levels. This occurs because soluble fiber, once it reaches the small intestine, transforms into a gel and binds to cholesterol. The body eliminates waste through the process of feces to rid itself of the substance. (2)

Soluble fiber-rich foods include, among others:

  • barley
  • fruit
  • legumes, peas, and beans
  • oatmeal
  • vegetables
  • most root crop vegetables

The risk of inheriting high cholesterol should be assessed by those with a family history of the disorder. If this is the case, they can work together to devise a plan to reduce their risk exposure. (2)

Low cholesterol foods

Foods with lower cholesterol are more likely to have a lower fat content. This indicates that diets consisting primarily of plant foods and proteins with minimal fat content are the superior options for lowering cholesterol levels. (2)

Cholesterol can sometimes be discovered in foods that have been prepared. The most reliable method for confirming this is carefully examining the food’s nutrition label and paying attention to the serving size. (2)

Examples of cholesterol lowering foods are:

Legumes

  • black beans
  • fava beans
  • garbanzo beans
  • kidney beans
  • lentils — red, black, and green
  • navy beans
  • pinto beans

Fruits

  • apples
  • bananas
  • blueberries
  • cantaloupe
  • mango
  • pineapple
  • oranges
  • strawberries
  • raspberries
  • watermelon

Vegetables

  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • eggplant
  • kale
  • okra
  • potato
  • spinach
  • sweet potato

Nuts

  • almonds
  • cashews
  • hazelnuts
  • macadamias
  • pecans
  • pine nuts
  • pistachios
  • walnuts

Whole grains, cereals, and pasta

  • bran products
  • cold cereals, especially whole grains or bran
  • noodles, especially whole grains or varieties made of lentils
  • oats and oatmeal
  • rice
  • whole-grain bread
  • whole-grain crackers

Soy

  • miso
  • soybeans
  • soymilk
  • tempeh
  • tofu

Fatty fish and meat

  • chicken
  • halibut
  • lean cuts of steak
  • mahi-mahi
  • salmon
  • tuna
  • turkey
  • yellowtail

Miscellaneous foods

  • chia seeds
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • honey
  • ketchup
  • mushrooms
  • mustard
  • onions

Ideas for low-cholesterol meals

Cutting less on meals rich in cholesterol is one way to reduce the amount of cholesterol found in the blood. (3)

Meal choices that are low in cholesterol include:

  • chicken or tofu vegetable stir fry with brown rice
  • Mediterranean quinoa with feta, cucumbers, red onions, and olives
  • overnight oats with fruit and nuts
  • pasta salad with roasted veggies and chicken
  • salads with low-fat dressings or olive oil-based dressings
  • salmon with rice and roasted broccoli
  • tofu or ground turkey chili
  • veggie or turkey sandwich or wrap
  • vegetable soup or broth-based lentil soup

To lower your cholesterol, try the diet described in the following paragraphs. Researchers have also studied the health benefits of the traditional Mediterranean diet. (3)

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid recommends various serving sizes and frequencies of food consumption.

  • 2 portions of white meat and 2–4 portions of eggs every week
  • dairy, nuts, seeds, and legumes every day
  • fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, such as olive oil, whole grains, and nuts with every main meal
  • at least 2 portions of fish or seafood every week
  • limiting red meat to no more than 2 portions per week and sweets to no more than 3 portions per week

Cardiovascular disease and LDL cholesterol levels were found to be reduced as a result of this diet in the study. (3)

More tips!

Cholesterol is a waxy substance created by your liver and obtained by eating animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs. Your liver is also responsible for producing cholesterol. (3)

If you take in a lot of cholesterol through your diet, your liver will reduce the amount of cholesterol it manufactures; as a result, dietary cholesterol has a negligible effect on total cholesterol levels. (3)

However, consuming a diet that is high in sweets, saturated fats, and trans fats might lead to an increase in cholesterol levels. Keep in mind that there are several different kinds of cholesterol. (3)

High “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, mainly oxidized, have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. While high levels of “good” HDL cholesterol may benefit your health, high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol have been linked to an increased risk of these conditions. (3)

This is because oxidized LDL cholesterol has a greater propensity to attach itself to the artery walls and form plaques known to narrow and block blood flow. The following is a list of ten suggestions that can assist you in lowering your cholesterol levels through diet and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. (3)

1. Eat soluble fiber-rich foods

Beans, lentils, whole grains, flaxseed, apples, and citrus fruits are all high sources of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber goes through your digestive tract, absorbing water and producing a thick paste because humans lack the enzymes to break it down. (3)

To aid in the digestion of fat, your liver produces bile, which soluble fiber absorbs as it moves through your digestive system. The thread and the bile linked to it are eventually eliminated in the stool. (3)

Because bile is formed from cholesterol, your liver reduces your blood cholesterol naturally when it needs to make more bile. Total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol can be reduced by 5–10 percent in as little as four weeks by eating soluble fiber regularly. (3)

For optimum cholesterol-lowering effects, it is recommended to ingest at least 5–10 grams of soluble fiber per day. However, benefits have been reported at even lower intakes of 3 grams daily. (3)

Lowering cholesterol by eliminating cholesterol in your stool can be achieved by ingesting solubilized fiber. To produce more bile, your body uses cholesterol from your bloodstream, lowering cholesterol levels. (3)

2. Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits

Reduce LDL cholesterol by eating more fruits and vegetables. According to research, adults who eat at least four servings of fruits and vegetables per day have lower LDL cholesterol levels than those who eat less than two servings per day. (3)

Antioxidants included in fruits and vegetables help keep LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and building plaque in the arteries, another risk factor for heart disease. This combination of cholesterol-lowering and heart-healthy antioxidants can help you live a longer, healthier life. (3)

Over a decade, those who consume the most fruits and vegetables are 17 percent less likely to acquire heart disease than those who consume the least of these foods. Lowering your LDL cholesterol and reducing LDL oxidation by eating four servings of fruits and vegetables daily may minimize your heart disease risk. (3)

3. Prepare meals using herbs and spices

They are nutrient-dense powerhouses containing a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Many studies have demonstrated daily eating garlic, turmeric, and ginger can help decrease cholesterol. (3)

You can cut your total cholesterol by 9 percent by consuming one garlic clove daily for three months. Additionally, the anti-oxidants included in herbs and spices help prevent the formation of plaques in your blood vessels by keeping LDL cholesterol from oxidizing. (3)

Even though most people do not consume significant quantities of herbs and spices, they can considerably contribute to the overall amount of antioxidants absorbed daily. (3)

Dried oregano, sage, mint, thyme, clove, allspice, cinnamon, and fresh herbs, including oregano, marjoram, dill, and cilantro, contain some of the highest antioxidant levels. (3)

Cholesterol-lowering effects can be achieved with either fresh or dried herbs and spices. The presence of antioxidants prevents LDL cholesterol oxidation. (3)

4. Consume a diverse range of healthy fats

Saturated and unsaturated fats are the two most common types of fat present in food. As a result of their lack of double bonds and straight-chain structure, saturated fats can pack firmly and remain solid at room temperature. (3)

Unsaturated fats have a bent structure and at least one double bond. Thus they don’t stick together as well. At room temperature, these properties allow them to be dissolved. (3)

In just eight weeks, switching to unsaturated fats from saturated fats has been shown to lower total cholesterol by 9% and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 11%. Long-term studies show that people who consume more unsaturated and less saturated fats tend to have lower cholesterol levels over time. (3)

Consume foods that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, high in heart-healthy unsaturated fats, such as avocados, olives, fatty fish, and nuts, is recommended. (3)

The “bad” LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol can be reduced over time by increasing consumption of unsaturated fats and decreasing consumption of saturated fats. Unsaturated fats can be found in avocados, olives, fatty fish, and nuts. (3)

5. Stay away from artificial trans fats

Trans fats occur naturally in red meat and dairy products. Still, artificial trans fats, found in many restaurants and processed meals, are the primary source for most individuals. (4)

To modify their structure and solidify them at room temperature, synthetic trans fats are made by hydrogenating or adding unsaturated fats like vegetable oils. Restaurants and food producers have long utilized trans fats as a cheap substitute for natural saturated fats. (4)

Eating artificial trans fats, on the other hand, has been related to an increased risk of heart disease 23%, according to an extensive study. Ingredient labels should not include the phrase “partially hydrogenated.” Using the word “trans fat” emphasizes that the food is unhealthy and should be avoided at all costs. (4)

To make it easier for people to avoid artificial trans fats, they have been banned from restaurants and processed meals in the United States as of June 2018. (4)

In addition to raising HDL cholesterol, meat and dairy products with naturally occurring trans fats can also elevate LDL cholesterol. However, their concentrations are so low that they don’t significantly threaten human health. (4)

An elevated risk of heart disease has been related to artificial trans fats. The United States recently restricted their usage in restaurants and processed meals, making it easier to avoid. (4)

6. Reduce your sugar consumption

You can also elevate your cholesterol levels by eating a diet high in saturated and trans fats. Too many added sugars might have the same effect on your health. (4)

High-fructose corn syrup has been linked to a 17 percent increase in LDL cholesterol among adults who eat 25 percent of their calories from drinks containing syrup. (4)

Fructose’s effect on heart disease is exacerbated by its tendency to increase the density of oxidized LDL cholesterol particles. More than 10 percent of Americans ate more than 25 percent of their daily calorie intake due to added sugars between 2005 and 2010. (4)

They were nearly three times as likely to die from heart disease as individuals who ate less than 10% of their daily calories from added sugars, according to 14-year research. (4)

A daily intake of no more than 100 calories (or 25 grams) of added sugar for women and children, and 150 calories (or 37.5 grams) for men, is recommended by the American Heart Association. (4)

You can achieve these aims by reading food labels and selecting goods with no added sugar. (4)

Cholesterol levels can rise, and your risk of death from heart disease can be more than doubled if you consume more than 25% of your daily calories from added sugars. Reduce your intake as much as possible by consuming fewer foods that contain added sugars. (4)

7. Consider adopting a Mediterranean diet

One of the simplest ways to implement the a healthy lifestyle is to adopt a Mediterranean diet. (4)

Olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fish are staples of the Mediterranean diet, limiting red meat consumption and most dairy products. Red wine is the most common alcoholic beverage served with meals, usually in small quantities. (4)

It’s considered heart-healthy since it includes many cholesterol-lowering items and excludes many cholesterol-raising foods. After three months of adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet, studies reveal that LDL cholesterol drops by 8.9 milligrams per deciliter (dL). (4)

When followed for at least four years, it lowers the risk of heart disease by up to 52% and death by up to 47%. (4)

Fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, fiber, and unsaturated fats abound in Mediterranean cuisine. You can lower your risk of heart disease if you follow a low-cholesterol diet like this. (4)

8. Increase your consumption of soy

Areoflavones are plant-based chemicals with a structure similar to estrogen and are abundant in protein in soybeans. Research studies have discovered that soy protein and isoflavones cut cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease. (4)

Eating soy daily for at least one month can raise “good” HDL cholesterol by 1.4 mg/dL and lower “bad” LDL cholesterol by around 4 mg/dL. Processed soy protein extracts and supplements may not be as helpful at lowering cholesterol as less-processed sources of soy, such as soybeans or milk. (4)

Regular consumption of soy’s plant-based proteins and isoflavones has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and, as a result, your risk of heart disease. (4)

9. Consume green tea

The Camellia sinensis leaves are heated and dried to produce green tea. The tea leaves are steeped in water to produce brewed tea and to make matcha green tea. The powdered tea leaves are blended with a liquid. (4)

It was shown in a meta-analysis of 14 trials that drinking green tea every day for two weeks reduced total cholesterol by 7 mg/dL and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 2 mg/dl. (4)

The liver’s generation of LDL is reduced, and its excretion from the bloodstream is increased in animal experiments showing that green tea may lower cholesterol. (4)

You can lower your risk of heart disease by drinking green tea, which contains antioxidants that prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and hardening into plaques inside your vessels. (4)

It is best to drink at least four cups a day, but even one cup a day can cut your risk of a heart attack by roughly 20 percent. Drinking at least one cup of green tea daily will lower your LDL cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart attack by approximately 20%. (4)

10. Take dietary supplements to reduce cholesterol

Cholesterol levels can be naturally lowered through dietary changes and supplementation. (4)

  • Supplementing with 1–6 grams of niacin daily has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 19 percent over one year. However, it has the potential to have adverse side effects. Thus it should only be used under the guidance of a doctor. (4)
  • Insoluble fiber-rich Psyllium husk can be combined with water and ingested daily to decrease cholesterol levels. Psyllium husk has been discovered to be a valuable addition to cholesterol-lowering medications. (4)
  • Taking L-carnitine decreases LDL levels and reduces oxidation in diabetics. Over three months, a dose of 2 grams per day can reduce oxidized cholesterol levels five times more effectively than a placebo. (4)

A new diet or supplement regimen should always be discussed with your doctor before beginning. However, it is essential to contact your doctor before using supplements such as L-carnitine, niacin, or psyllium husk. (4)

The Bottom Line

Cardiovascular illness has been linked to an increased chance of high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol (exceptionally tiny, dense, and oxidized LDL). (5)

Changing one’s diet to include more fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, soluble fiber, and unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels and minimize the risk of cardiovascular disease. (5)

Avoid trans fats and added sugars, which raise LDL cholesterol, to maintain a healthy cholesterol level. (5)

Cholesterol can be reduced by consuming foods and supplements such as green tea, soy, niacin, psyllium husk, and L-carnitine. You can lower your cholesterol by making numerous tiny dietary adjustments but make sure to ask your dietician for advice to ensure you’re having what’s best for you. (5)

References:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/low-cholesterol-diet
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/howtolowercholesterolwithdiet.html
  3. https://www.healthifyme.com/blog/low-cholesterol-diet-plan/
  4. https://www.eatingwell.com/article/7836633/high-cholesterol-diet-plan-for-beginners/
  5. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/low-cholesterol-lunch
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