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
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]). However, what is even more important is the breakdown of LDL and HDL cholesterol.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—Also known as bad cholesterol, 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 is an essential nutrient with many responsibilities, including transporting the fat soluble vitamins
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
- Animal fats
that are saturated include: butter, lard, whole-milk dairy products, meat fat, and poultry skin
- Vegetable fats
that are saturated include: hydrogenated shortening, palm oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter
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
Saturated fat raises your blood cholesterol more than any of the other types of fat or cholesterol. For this reason, less than 10% of calories should come from saturated fat on a cholesterol-lowering diet.
On an 1,800 calorie diet, this translates into less than 20 grams of saturated fat per day, leaving 40 grams to come from mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Dietary cholesterol is found only in animal products. Although dietary cholesterol can increase LDL cholesterol, it does not 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, 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 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%.