First of all, what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that our bodies need to build healthy cells. Although it often gets a bad rap (and too much can be dangerous), the truth is that our bodies simply couldn’t function without cholesterol. 

Not all cholesterol is the same. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – or “bad cholesterol” – can make plaque in your arteries, putting you at risk for hardened arteries (atherosclerosis), heart disease, vascular issues and more. On the other hand, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – “good cholesterol” – actually helps remove that bad cholesterol from your bloodstream.

If you have high cholesterol levels, it usually means that you have too much LDL and not enough HDL. High cholesterol levels affect around one in every three Americans. But there are changes you can make today to help lower your LDL and increase your HDL.


5 Lifestyle Changes To Lower Your Cholesterol

Here are five things you can do to lower cholesterol without the use of medication:

1. Read those nutrition labels to avoid trans fats!

You’ve probably heard this advice over and over again because it’s one of the easiest things you can do to help control your diet: read nutrition labels. Nutrition labels can help you understand which good nutrients you’re eating, and they can also help you avoid trans fats, one of the worst ingredients for your cholesterol levels.

Trans fats, also known as “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” are sneaky ingredients that may be good for food manufacturers, but they’re not so good for you. Trans fats help make products last longer so they’re easier to ship and store. They’re common in many processed foods, and they’re also present in many baked goods that use margarine or shortening.

Unfortunately, they also contribute to raising bad LDL cholesterol levels – while reducing good HDL cholesterol levels. So if you really want to lower your cholesterol, read labels and try to avoid trans fats whenever you can. They’re some of the biggest offenders when it comes to high cholesterol, and cutting them out of your diet can make a big impact.

2. Choose meats with fewer saturated fats, like fish or chicken!

Refrigerator looking a bit emptier than usual? Before you head out to the store to restock, take a moment to review your shopping list and see if there’s an opportunity to make some easy protein switches.

For starters, go easy on red meats. Many red meats are high in saturated fats, which can raise bad LDL cholesterol levels. For healthier alternatives, choose skinless chicken or skinless turkey more often, and avoid processed meats. You can also try working more fish into your diet.

Fish is low in saturated fats, and many kinds contain omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit your heart health and can boost your good HDL cholesterol levels. Here are some examples of types of fish you can try to include in your diet:

  • Oily fish like Atlantic or Pacific salmon, Atlantic mackerel or tilapia
  • Shellfish like shrimp and crab
  • Freshwater fish like lake herring and trout
  • Saltwater whitefish like cod and grouper
  • Tuna steaks or filets and canned light tuna

All that said, steak and hamburger can be hard to resist. When you’re grilling out, choose leaner cuts of meat. Like anything, it’s okay to have some saturated fats in your diet. You just need to eat them in moderation.

3. Get more soluble fiber with whole grain bread, kidney beans, quinoa and more!

You probably know fiber as something that can help you with your digestive health. But if you thought fiber was only for digestion, think again: It can also help build your cardiovascular health.

A low-cholesterol food list is rich in soluble fiber (fiber that can dissolve into water). Soluble fiber grabs cholesterol in your gut – before it gets into your bloodstream – and helps lower bad LDL cholesterol levels.

Foods rich in soluble fiber include:

  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Quinoa
  • Whole grain bread
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas

It’s easy to build more of these types of foods into your diet. Try oatmeal and whole grain toast for breakfast, curried lentils for lunch, or turkey chili with kidney beans for dinner.

But one thing that’s important to remember here is that not all “good” foods are created equal. Generally, the more processed a grain or bean, the less likely it is to have healthy benefits and nutritional value. Whenever you can, try to stock up on fresh ingredients.


4. Boost unsaturated fats and fiber by snacking on fruits, vegetables and nuts!

There’s nothing wrong with grabbing a snack between meals to boost your energy or settle your rumbling stomach. But common snack foods like chips, microwavable popcorn, cookies, pastries or crackers are high in trans and saturated fats. On the other hand, snacking on fruits, vegetables and nuts not only helps you avoid bad fats, but also helps you get good fats and fiber.

Raw nuts are high in unsaturated fats – which are the best kind of fats. Nuts are great for a heart-healthy diet because they raise your good HDL cholesterol levels and lower your bad LDL cholesterol levels. Other examples of foods that are high in unsaturated fat include avocados and olives.

Nuts – along with many fruits and veggies – can also be a great source of soluble fiber. Adding as many of these foods as you can to your diet can be a double-dose of cholesterol-reducing impact.

As with meats and whole grains, remember that more processing means less benefit. For example, you won’t get as much value from applesauce as you will from eating a whole apple. So, if you’re able to, try to get raw fruits, veggies and nuts (unsalted if you can).

READ MORE: Grapefruit & Celery Juice that Beats Bad Cholesterol

5. Embrace low-fat milk, cheese and yogurts!

Choosing to lower your cholesterol doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you enjoy – it’s simply about making smarter choices. When it comes to dairy, this is a big area where picking a healthier alternative can be an easy win.

For items like cheese, milk, cream and yogurt, use low-fat dairy products instead of the regular versions. If you’re feeling experimental, try soy milk, too. Who knows? It could become your next craving.

Making these changes is helpful because full-fat dairy products contain saturated fat as well as cholesterol. By picking a low-fat (or non-fat) version, you’re building healthier levels of cholesterol in your bloodstream.


Healthiest Oils 

Most oils are a combination of MUFAs, PUFAs, and saturated fats. Choosing those that are low in saturated fatty acids (SFA) and high in unsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol levels.

Fortunately, there are plenty of heart-healthy options to choose from:

  • Avocado
  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Grapeseed
  • Flaxseed
  • Olive
  • Peanut
  • Rice bran
  • Safflower
  • Sesame
  • Soybean
  • Sunflower

This list of heart-healthy oils includes nontropical vegetable oils that contain less than 25% SFA and a mixture of MUFA and PUFA fats. These oils are liquid at room temperature and they usually become thick and cloudy when refrigerated.

Avocado Oil 

Avocado oil is mostly MUFA and has many uses. Its high smoke point makes it a good choice for high-heat cooking and frying. The neutral, buttery, and nutty flavor can also be enjoyed in salad dressings, marinades, and dips. Avocado oil is cholesterol-free.7

Canola Oil 

A good source of both MUFA (and some PUFA), canola oil’s medium-high smoke point makes it a good option for baking, cooking in the oven, and stir-frying. It is high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. Canola has a mild taste, and can be used in salad dressings, marinades, and dips. Canola oil is also cholesterol-free.

Corn Oil 

Another cholesterol-free option, corn oil is a good choice for light sautéing, sauces, and baking. It has a light taste and is less expensive than other oils. In addition, research shows that corn oil can help to lower LDL nearly three times more than olive oil.

Grapeseed Oil 

This PUFA oil has a mild taste and medium-high smoke point. It is a good option for baked or oven-cooked dishes and stir-fries. It’s also high in vitamin E, with proven health benefits and heart-healthy properties. 

Flaxseed Oil 

Packed with omega-3s, flaxseed oil is a nutritional powerhouse with many health benefits, including better heart health. Due to its low smoke point, flaxseed oil is only appropriate for no-heat cooking.

Its light and earthy flavor can be an acquired taste but it’s delicious drizzled over vegetables in place of butter. It also may be mixed into salad dressings or added to smoothies. For best quality, opt for refrigerated cold-pressed flaxseed oil in an opaque bottle.

Olive Oil 

Olive oil is a good source of vitamin E and antioxidants called polyphenols. It is widely used in Mediterranean cooking due to its rich flavor, versatility, and heart-healthy benefits. Research shows eating 1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) of olive oil each day may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Olive oil has a medium smoke point and can be used for sautéing, frying over medium-high heat, and in salad dressings. Choose extra-virgin olive oil varieties that are not overly processed.

Extra-virgin olive oil is an especially good choice for heart health. Olive oil plays a central role in the Mediterranean diet, which is often recommended by experts for its overall health benefits.

Peanut Oil 

A good source of MUFA, peanut oil sometimes is used for deep frying due to its high smoke point. In addition to its MUFA fats, it also has no cholesterol.

Though many people have serious allergic reactions to peanuts, highly refined peanut oil is not considered an allergen and is used in commercial food preparation.

Rice Bran Oil 

Rich in vitamins E and K and beneficial phytosterols, rice bran oil is one of the healthiest oils around. A meta-analysis of 11 studies found rice bran oil lowers LDL cholesterol by about 7 mg/dl while also increasing HDL cholesterol levels by 7 mg/dl.

Rice bran’s nutty flavor and high smoke point make it a good option for stir-fries or deep-fried dishes, as well as low-heat preparation.

Safflower Oil 

A popular heart-healthy oil with a delicate flavor, safflower oil comes in a few different forms. High-linoleic safflower oil is high in PUFAs and has a low smoke point. This means it should be used in unheated dishes, such as dressings and dips.

Safflower oil which is high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) has a temperature at which it starts smoking that is suitable for deep frying food. Studies have shown that consuming safflower oil can bring about a reduction in cholesterol levels, Blood sugar can be lowered, with potential for weight loss, as well.

Sesame Oil 

Often used in Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, sesame oil has been shown to be better than olive oil for cholesterol levels. Sesame oil comes in different blends.

Light sesame oil, made from raw sesame seeds, has a mild flavor. It can be used instead of canola or vegetable oil, and withstands the high heat of frying. Oil extracted from toasted sesame seeds has a nuttier flavor but a lower smoke point. The darker the oil, the more flavorful it is.

Soybean Oil 

A versatile oil with a high smoke point, soybean oil has a neutral taste and can be used for everything from salad dressings to deep frying. Soybean, a PUFA oil, is rich in vitamin E and phytosterols.

People allergic to soy should be careful with cold-pressed varieties of soybean oil. In highly refined soybean oil, however, the protein allergens have been removed and research suggests it does not prompt an allergic response.

Sunflower Oil 

A mild oil with little taste, refined sunflower oil can be used for high-heat cooking. The unrefined oil should only be used in no-heat recipes. Look for high-oleic sunflower oil, which has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.

If you are following a low-cholesterol diet, you’ll want to avoid some high stearic/high oleic varieties of sunflower oil. Check to be sure it does not contain stearic acid, which is a saturated fat.


Begin Lowering Cholesterol Naturally Today

By making changes to your diet, getting more exercise, quitting smoking, losing weight (if you need to) and connecting with your doctor, you’ll be well on your way to better cardiovascular health that has a lasting effect.

Sound like a lot to take on? Don’t be intimidated. Bringing down your high cholesterol doesn’t have to mean changing your life completely. Rather, start with changing your mindset. Instead of thinking of it as moving away from things, you’re moving toward new habits that will help you create a healthier and more enjoyable future.

Now is always the right time to start taking care of your heart health. If you need a little support, lean on friends and family. And don’t forget that your doctor is always there for you with advice, motivation and encouragement so you can reach your goals and live healthier.



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