(Low-Density Lipoprotein [LDL] Lowering Diet)
The primary goal of this diet is to lower your levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. This diet may also raise your levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol. Having too much bad cholesterol—and/or not enough of the good kind—can cause plaque to build up in your arteries. Over time, this build-up narrows your arteries, increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke .
Your Cholesterol Levels
A cholesterol test should be done after a 9- to12-hour fast. The results that you want to focus on are the total, LDL, and HDL levels.
- Total cholesterol—Your total cholesterol should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL [11.1 mmol/L]). But, what is even more important is the breakdown of LDL and HDL cholesterol
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—Also known as “bad” cholesterol, this is the cholesterol that tends to build up along your arteries. Bad cholesterol levels are increased by eating fats that are saturated or hydrogenated. This level should be less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L).
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol—Also known as “good” cholesterol, it actually carries bad cholesterol away from your arteries and may, therefore, help lower your risk of having a heart attack. This level should be 60 mg/dL (3.3 mmol/L) or above.
Diet and Cholesterol
Diet is one of several factors that affect cholesterol levels. Other factors include heredity, age, sex, physical inactivity, and being overweight. The main dietary components that impact cholesterol levels are fat, cholesterol, and fiber.
Fat is an essential nutrient with many responsibilities, including transporting the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, protecting vital organs, and providing a sense of fullness after meals. Fat can be broken down into four main types:
Fats that increase LDL levels and should be avoided or limited:
Found in margarine and vegetable shortening, shelf stable snack foods, and fried foods; increases total blood cholesterol, especially LDL levels
Hydrogenated or “trans” fat
Found in margarine and vegetable shortening; increases total blood cholesterol, including LDL levels
Fats that improve cholesterol profile and should be eaten in moderation:
Found in oils such as olive and canola; can decrease total cholesterol level while keeping levels of HDL high
Found in oils such as safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn, and sesame; can decrease total cholesterol (both HDL and LDL)
Saturated fat raises your blood cholesterol more than any of the other types of fat or cholesterol. For this reason, less than 7% of calories should come from saturated fat on a cholesterol-lowering diet.
On an 1,800 calorie diet, this translates into less than 14 grams of saturated fat per day, leaving 46 grams to come from mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Dietary cholesterol is found only in animal products. Although dietary cholesterol can increase LDL cholesterol, it doesn’t affect it as much as saturated fat. On a cholesterol-lowering diet you should consume no more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day.
Eating a diet high in soluble fiber can help lower your LDL cholesterol. There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. While both are very important to health, only soluble fiber impacts cholesterol levels. When soluble fiber is digested, it dissolves into a gel-like substance that helps block the absorption of fat and cholesterol into the bloodstream.
Soluble fiber is found in foods such as oatmeal, oat bran, barley, soy products, legumes (eg, dried beans and peas), apples, and strawberries. On a cholesterol-lowering diet you should consume at least 5-10 grams of soluble fiber per day, and ideally 10-25 grams.
Stanols and Sterols
Stanols and sterols are substances found in certain plants. Plant stanols and sterols can lower LDL cholesterol levels in a similar way to soluble fiber, by blocking their absorption from the digestive tract. Certain foods—including margarines and orange juice—are now being fortified with these cholesterol-lowering substances. Research shows that consuming at least 2 grams of plant stanols or sterols a day can reduce LDL cholesterol by more than 10%.
Eating Guide for a Cholesterol-Lowering Diet
|Food Category||Foods Recommended||Foods to Avoid|
|Meat and beans|
|Fats and oil|
|Snacks, sweets, and condiments|
- Make whole grains, fruits, and vegetables the base of your diet.
- Look for products that are labeled as “fat free,” “low-fat,” cholesterol free,” “saturated fat free,” and “trans fat free." However, a product can claim 0 grams trans fat, even on the label, but still have a small amount. Be sure to look for “partially hydrogenated oil." If a product has this, avoid it.
- Become familiar with the Nutrition Facts panel, which lists information such as the amount of calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol per serving of the item.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (eg, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna; flaxseed; walnuts; canola oil). Some studies suggest that this supplement may help improve HDL levels.
- Prepare foods by using low-fat methods such as steaming, boiling, grilling, poaching, baking, broiling, or roasting. If you are sautéing or stir frying, use a cooking spray or small amount of vegetable oil.
- Trim any visible fat off meat or poultry before cooking and drain the fat after browning.
- Limit high-fat sauces; add zest to foods by topping them with low-fat items such as fresh herbs, salsas, or chutneys.
- Increase fiber by adding fruit to your cereal or yogurt, beans to your salad, and choosing whole grain breads.
- Cook at home more often. Restaurant food tends to be high in fat and calories.
- Engage in at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
- Talk to a registered dietitian for individualized diet advice.
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
National Cholesterol Education Program
Dietitians of Canada
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Cholesterol. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1516 . Accessed March 28, 2007.
Cholesterol: the best foods to lower your cholesterol and protect your heart. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cholesterol/CL00002 . Accessed March 25, 2007.
Hypercholesterolemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Accessed March 25, 2007.
Lowering your cholesterol with TLC. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/chol_tlc.pdf . Accessed March 25, 2007.
Last reviewed May 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg, MS, RD, LDN
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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