A Complete Guide to Low Cholesterol Diets

Medically Reviewed By Jerlyn Jones, MS MPA RDN LD CLT

Doctors often recommend adjusting your diet to help treat high cholesterol levels. A low cholesterol diet typically includes prioritizing vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy sources of unsaturated fats. There is no official diet for treating high cholesterol levels. However, doctors often recommend eating patterns that reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats. This may help you reduce or manage high cholesterol levels.

This article discusses how to follow a diet for low cholesterol, including which foods to prioritize and which foods to limit, and some meal ideas.

How to follow a low cholesterol diet

A plate of lettuce, baked chickpeas, and fried eggs.
Photography by Helen Rushbrook/Stocksy United

The aim of a low cholesterol diet is to reduce your triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels.

Typically, a low cholesterol diet involves prioritizing fresh and minimally processed foods that are rich in nutrients. This also involves limiting your intake of foods that are high in saturated Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source or trans fats Trusted Source American Heart Association Highly respected national organization Go to source .

Read more about the types of fats, including their differences and sources.

Your medical team may also recommend limiting foods that are high in salt and added sugar to support your general health.

However, nutritional needs are highly personal. The amounts of certain foods that one person can eat safely may not be the same for everyone. Talk with a doctor or registered dietitian for personalized advice.

Foods to limit on a low cholesterol diet

To follow a low cholesterol diet, try limiting the following foods, as they can be high in saturated fats:

  • red meats, especially game and organ meats like liver and kidney
  • processed meats, such as sausages, bacon, and deli meats
  • poultry with the skin on
  • dairy products made from whole or 2% milk, including some butters, creams, and cheese
  • other saturated cooking fats and oils, such as:
    • ghee
    • lard
    • shortening
    • margarine
    • palm oil
    • coconut oil

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting your intake of saturated fats to less than 6% Trusted Source American Heart Association Highly respected national organization Go to source of your total daily calories.

A low cholesterol diet also involves limiting trans fats. Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that can increase Trusted Source World Health Organization Highly respected international organization Go to source your cholesterol levels and the risk of health conditions.

Foods to avoid or limit that may contain trans fats include highly processed foods, drinks, condiments, and snacks. Examples include:

  • fried foods
  • fast food or restaurant food
  • baked goods, including pizzas, cakes, cookies, and pastries
  • crackers
  • potato chips
  • buttered popcorn
  • products containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils — information that’s usually included on the ingredients label

If you are following a low cholesterol diet to reduce your cholesterol levels and protect your cardiovascular health, consider also limiting:

  • salt or sodium
  • alcohol
  • added sugars

Foods to include on a low cholesterol diet

A helpful way to limit saturated and trans fats is substituting them with healthier unsaturated fats, such as Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source :

  • olive oil
  • rapeseed oil
  • sunflower oil
  • peanut oil
  • avocado oil

While limiting foods high in saturated and trans fats, try to prioritize foods such as:

  • unsalted nuts and seeds
  • lean sources of protein, such as some poultry, soy products, and other beans
  • foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as Trusted Source National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements Governmental authority Go to source :
    • salmon, mackerel, and trout
    • some seaweed and algae Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , such as nori, spirulina, and algal oil
    • flaxseed and chia seeds
    • edamame and kidney beans
  • high fiber foods, such as:
    • fresh fruits and vegetables
    • whole grains
    • legumes, such as beans, peas, and pulses

High fiber foods can help reduce the amount of cholesterol the digestive tract absorbs and can contain cholesterol-lowering compounds called plant sterols. Foods high in omega-3s can also help increase your HDL cholesterol levels, which in turn can decrease LDL cholesterol.

Many of these foods also help lower inflammation, further protecting against cardiovascular disease.

Learn about eating eggs while managing high cholesterol levels.

Other advice for a low cholesterol diet

Switching to a low cholesterol diet may be challenging at first. You may experience cravings for high saturated and trans fat foods that you used to eat. For some people, preparing meals can also be time-consuming and challenging to fit into a busy schedule.

The following advice may help you adapt to or maintain a low cholesterol diet:

  • Try gradually limiting or reducing portion sizes of your favorite high cholesterol foods instead of completely avoiding them.
  • Prepare low cholesterol meals and snacks at home instead of buying restaurant food. Consider making these meals in advance.
  • Read food ingredient labels when shopping to help avoid high cholesterol ingredients.
  • Consider asking a doctor or registered dietitian for advice, meal ideas, and further resources such as social support groups.

Read about supplements for lowering cholesterol.

Low cholesterol meals

Below are some ideas for meals and snacks that may help you lower your cholesterol levels.

Breakfast

  • cinnamon oatmeal with banana and apple slices
  • whole grain toast with unsalted peanut butter and banana
  • whole grain toast with avocado and salmon
  • chia seed pudding with berries

Lunch

  • leafy green salad with pistachios and flaxseeds
  • tuna and sweetcorn on oatcakes
  • mixed bean and tomato salad
  • chicken and avocado sandwich with whole grain bread
  • vegan tagine with peas, chopped tomatoes, and chickpeas

Dinner

  • chicken breast casserole with beans, carrots, and brown rice
  • noodles with turkey and green beans
  • lentil, squash, and sweet potato dahl
  • tofu kebabs and salad
  • oven-roasted mackerel with broccoli and tomatoes

Snacks

  • oven-baked chickpeas seasoned with paprika and garlic
  • dark chocolate
  • unsalted nuts and seeds
  • plain popcorn flavored with turmeric, black pepper, rosemary, or paprika
  • oven-baked eggplant or sweet potato chips
  • fruit salad
  • vegetable sticks and hummus

See more snack ideas for lowering cholesterol.

Summary

A low cholesterol diet typically involves limiting trans and saturated fats while prioritizing whole grains, lean proteins, and fruits and vegetables.

Foods to limit to help lower cholesterol include:

  • cooking fats, including lard, shortening, and palm oil
  • whole milk or 2% milk dairy, such as butter and cheese
  • highly processed foods, snacks, and condiments
  • baked goods and pastries
  • some restaurant or fast foods
  • hydrogenated oils

Talk with a doctor or registered dietitian for personalized advice about nutrition and cholesterol.

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Medical Reviewer: Jerlyn Jones, MS MPA RDN LD CLT
Last Review Date: 2024 Jun 11
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.