01/13/2010 - Articles

Cholesterol Diet: How to eat to lower your cholesterol

By: The Swiss Association for Nutrition (SAN)

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How to eat to lower your cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance which performs numerous important functions in the human body. It is a component of cell walls and is used by the body to make various.

Lower cholesterol diets are one way to bring down high cholesterol levels but how to eat to lower my cholesterol? What are the best foods to eat to lower cholesterol? What can you eat to lower cholesterol? Find some answers in this article.

In this article:

Causes of Cholesterol
"Good" and "bad" cholesterol
How is the cholesterol level increased?
Change of diet
Dietary recommendations in cases of high cholesterol
Food To Eat To Lower Cholesterol
High cholesterol - chief points to remember

Causes of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance which performs numerous important functions in the human body. It is a component of cell walls and is used by the body to make various hormones; it is also needed for producing the bile acid that helps the digestion.

The body produces most of the cholesterol itself, mainly in the liver. But food provides an additional source. An excess of "bad" cholesterol is not easy for the body to excrete, so it is deposited in the artery walls, where it plays a crucial part in promoting atherosclerosis and hence a gradual narrowing of the arteries. A high blood cholesterol level is therefore one of the main risk factors for the development of coronary heart disease (angina pectoris, myocardial infarction), stroke, and arterial obstruction in the legs.

High cholesterol levels should be treated medically if the overall risk of a cardiovascular disorder is present. By changes in lifestyle (abstention from smoking, reduced stress, increased physical activity etc.) and in dietary habits, cholesterol levels can often be brought back to normal. If this proves unsuccessful, it is necessary to take a so-called lipid-lowering medicine. This applies in particular to people genetically predisposed to have high cholesterol values.

"Good Cholesterol" and "Bad Cholesterol"

In order that body fats (or lipids) can perform their important functions in the cell and can be deposited in the fatty tissue as energy reserves, they have to be transported in the blood to various organs. Since these lipids are not water-soluble, the body provides them with carrier substances known as lipoproteins for transport in the blood. There are two kinds of lipoprotein: the "good" high-density lipoprotein (or HDL) and the "bad" low-density lipoprotein (or LDL). Raised LDL values are bad because they promote atherosclerosis. A high HDL cholesterol level, on the other hand, provides some protection against atherosclerosis, because HDL has the beneficial property of being able to absorb and dispose of excess cholesterol.

How is the cholesterol level increased?

Cholesterol & Diet

The human body needs cholesterol to build cells and produce hormones. Healthy cells have special receptors on their surface which enable LDL cholesterol to cross from the blood into the interior of the cell. The cholesterol level in the blood is therefore normally kept in balance. However, if the diet contains too much fat, the cells - as they gradually become saturated - refuse to accept the LDL, and this leads to an increase in the level of cholesterol in the blood. Those who are affected are usually overweight. But there are also people who have a family predisposition for high cholesterol; the cells of these people show an almost complete absence of the surface receptors responsible for binding LDL - this is genetically determined. In such people, very high cholesterol levels can occur despite a low-fat diet; these people are usually quite slim.

Change of diet for your cholesterol 

  • The most important aim of changing the diet is to get used to food with the lowest possible content of saturated fats (as found for example in animal products such as butter, full-fat milk products, meat and meat products, cakes and pastries, chocolate, and coconut butter or palm kernel oil etc.).
  • Trans-fatty acids are to be avoided. They occur predominantly with hardening of the unsaturated fatty acids found e.g. in some margarines, in cooking fats, and in pre-cooked products (consult the list of ingredients). They also occur in small quantities in fatty food products from ruminant animals (butter, beef etc.).
  • Low-fat kinds of food preparation are to be preferred.
  • Foods with a high content of cholesterol (animal products such as offal, egg yolk, seafood, butter, and full-fat milk products) do not have to be completely avoided, but should be consumed in moderation only.
  • Dietary fibre helps to lower the cholesterol level. High-fibre food is therefore to be preferred (e.g. wholemeal products, potatoes, pulses, vegetables and fruit).
  • Oils containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids help to increase the "good" HDL and lower the "bad" LDL (e.g. olive oil, rapeseed oil, corn oil, sunflower oil etc.). These oils, however, are not panaceas; it is always important to keep overall fat consumption down and thus limit the total energy supply. 

Further recommendations

If you are overweight, you should aim to lose some weight (see " Losing Weight the Healthy Way "). A lot of exercise is to be recommended, because sporting activities increase the "good" HDL and also help to keep weight under control (see " Exercise Programs - a Primer " ).

Dietary recommendations in cases of high cholesterol

Many factors affect our dietary behaviour: individual needs and desires, our day-to-day condition, the social environment, the food currently on offer, advertising etc. The following recommendations ensure a balanced and varied diet that provides an adequate intake of energy, nutrients and protective substances and thus a healthy approach to nutrition. The figures quoted are intended for the "average person", i.e. for adults who engage in normal physical activities and thus have an average energy and nutrient requirement. The figures would vary for other groups (such as children and adolescents, top athletes, pregnant women etc.). The quantities and portions given are likewise average values; they cannot be adhered to precisely every day. Those passages which appear in italics are particularly important for persons with a tendency towards high cholesterol.

Food To Eat To Lower Cholesterol and How to Eat Them:

Fats and oils:
Use 2 teaspoonfuls (10 g) of high-quality vegetable oil (e.g. olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, thistle oil, corn oil, ) per day, unheated, e.g. for salad dressings.
Use not more than 2 teaspoonfuls (10 g) of cooking fat or oil per day (e.g. olive oil, peanut oil) for the preparation of meals.
Do not eat more than 2 teaspoonfuls (10 g) of spreading butter or margarine per day on bread.
Do not eat more than one high-fat meal per day (such as deep-fried or breaded food, cheese dishes, fried potato, sausage, cream sauce, puff pastry, cakes, chocolate).

Sweets:
Eat sweets in moderation - avoid high-fat sweets where possible.

Meat, fish, seafood and eggs:
Eat not more than one portion of the lowest-fat meat possible (80 - 120 g) per day, or 2 - 4 times a week; more is unnecessary, less is no problem.
Substitute salted meat products, such as ham, sausage, or bacon, for meat as rarely as possible, but not more than once a week.
Avoid offal (liver, kidneys, tripe, sweetbreads, etc.).
Eat 2 portions of fish (100 - 120 g) per week.
Eat not more than one portion of seafood (crustaceans and shellfish) per month.
Eat 1 - 2 eggs per week (including processed eggs, e.g. in pastries and cakes, soufflés or creams).

Pulses, pulse products:
Eat 1 - 2 portions a week (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, tofu etc.).

Milk and dairy products:
Consume 2 - 3 portions a day (1 portion = 2 dl milk or 1 cup of yoghourt or 30 g of hard cheese or 60 g of soft cheese), preferably fat-reduced products.

Cereal products and potatoes:
Eat at least 3 portions of carbohydrate-rich food a day (e.g. bread, potatoes, rice, cereal, pasta, etc.), preferably wholemeal products, preparing the food in a low fat way.

Fruit:
Eat 2 - 3 portions of fruit per day (e.g. 1 apple, 3 plums or a dish of berries), ideally raw.

Vegetables:
Eat 3 - 4 portions of vegetable per day, at least one of them raw (e.g. as a mixed salad).

Beverages:
Drink at least 1.5 litres (6 glasses) of liquid per day - preferably unsweetened and alcohol-free beverages.

Alcoholic drinks:
Healthy adults should not drink more than 1-2 glasses of wine or beer per day.

High cholesterol - chief points to remember: 

  • Sparing use of fat (especially saturated fats in the form of foods of animal origin or coconut butter, palm kernel oil or cocoa butter), both in the diet itself and during the preparation of meals, generally lowers the cholesterol level more reliably than abstaining from individual foods that contain a lot of cholesterol.
  • Increase your dietary fibre - eat plenty of wholemeal products, vegetables and fruit.
  • If overweight, lose weight.
  • Take regular physical exercise.

The New 8-Week Cholesterol Cure by Robert E. Kowalski

More articles about Cholesterol

Created on: 12/08/2002
Reviewed on: 01/13/2010

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Anonymous wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

All the comments provided have been helpful. I'm embarking on a real lifestyle change to get back to a normal body weight. Too many years of over indulgence has led to my present condition. Take meds for BP, diabetes and now high cholesterol. Found the transition to eliminate all those foods that provided flavour and comfort, a bit challenging but it took years to add all the blubber, it only makes sense that it will take at least a year to get it off again. Found that exercise is THE key and while I'm not directly promoting this product, overweight people who hate the gym environment would do themselves a favour to get a Wii (or a similar exercise product) and dedicate themselves to using it just 30 minutes a day. Try the fun games first just to immerse yourself in the possibilities and it's important to take your time and not to be discouraged. That's also a key. My goal is to get back to 185 in 60 weeks which will be a weight drop of 80 pounds and once it is achieved, the goal is to be able to rid myself of at least two of the three major meds I'm currently taking.
For reducing your LDL cholesterol levels I would completely eliminate eating eggs or eat instead the cholesterol free egg products. Oh, also don't eat processed cheese (especially slices, too easy to eat) and a thick cheese slice contains 20 mg of cholesterol so it's not really worth eating that slice. Well you get the picture.
Exercise is the key though and walking is a big part. Try to get to 10,000 steps per day and should you do that, the weight has to fall off, especially if you're watching your cholesterol intake.
Anybody reading this just remember that it's a daily thing and once you've got it wired into your brain and according to tv's Dr. Oz, that takes about two weeks. Once that happens, just 30 minutes of exercise and another 30 minutes of walking (or running in place - works for me) the weight will come off. You'll have more energy, will handle stress much better and become more confident in everything that you do.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Because cholesterol performs such an important function in our bodies it is increasingly being said that reduction of cholesterol across the board may not be in everyone's best interest.
So although diagnosed with H C ten years ago I took the decision, five yearsago, to cease taking statins. I eat at least one egg per day, eat butter cream and almost all 'forbidden' foods on a daily basis. As a sixty five year old retireee I do however exersize regularly and eat a daily variety of fresh fruits and salads. My BP and resting pulse rate is that of a young man. Statins are a major cash cow for the phamacuetical industry and an appaling cost to, and waste of, NHS resources

Anonymous wrote 2 years 24 weeks ago

Some months ago, I was searching for some food to eat to lower my cholesterol. A friend of mine told me to try cod liver oil every day, little hard fat like butter and red fatty meat and it really helped me to reduce my cholesterol. Maybe it'll work for you as well

Anonymous wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

here are some food to eat to lower your cholesterol: Almonds, Avocados, Black soybeans, Blueberries, Fish Olive oil, Olives, Pistachios, Walnuts, Whole grains and oats, Yogurt (with probiotics)

June Chen, MD wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

Foods that come from plants (dry beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds) don't contain cholesterol. Low-fat and fat-free dairy products, poultry, and most varieties of fish contain little cholesterol. Eliminating butter, trans fat margarines, and polyunsaturated oils and replacing them with canola and olive oil or plant sterols will also help to lower cholesterol.

The American Heart Association advises that you make a habit of checking out the labels on your packaged foods -- avoid foods with saturated and trans fats, as most of these foods generally contain substantial amounts of dietary cholesterol. For the American Heart Association's guide to reading food labels, visit http://www.americanheart.org/downloadable/heart/1196283027348FoodLabels.pdf

Anonymous wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

There is plenty of food to eat to lower your cholesterol. Olive oil can also be used you your low cholesterol recipes.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 26 weeks ago

There are many foods that you can eat to lower cholesterol: Beans, lentils, oat bran, barley, wheat bran (any fiber-rich food), walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, celery, lettuce, asparagus, spinach, tomatoes, ginger...it could be useful to have a sort of guide that list all low cholesterol food.