Doctors Say This is the Best Diet to Reduce High Cholesterol

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It cuts hundreds of thousands of lives short every year — many of them suddenly without warning. And conditions like elevated cholesterol are often to blame.

High cholesterol can lead to issues such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and more. And though experts have gone back-and-forth in their research for a long time regarding how exactly diet affects your heart, everyone agrees: What you eat over an extended period of time matters.

Here are the general guidelines experts give for reducing cholesterol through diet.

Why is high cholesterol dangerous?

High blood pressure

High blood pressure | Ronstik/iStock/Getty Images

High cholesterol is bad for your body¬†— especially your heart. Too much “bad” cholesterol can build up against the walls of your arteries. This causes them to narrow and harden, making it harder for blood to flow through them.

When this happens, your blood pressure escalates to force it through a tighter pathway. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease because your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your body.

Similar to high blood pressure, cholesterol doesn’t usually come with noticeable symptoms. So unless you get your numbers checked regularly, it’s possible to suffer a lot of damage to your arteries, heart, and other parts of your body without even realizing it’s happening.

There are a few things you can do to prevent high cholesterol from harming your health.

The best diet to lower cholesterol

Though not a “diet” the way we traditionally think of them, the Mediterranean diet may be the best guide to follow when trying to eat to reduce high cholesterol.

It incorporates a combination of exercise, healthy fats, and fiber that’s good for your heart and long-term health.

Foods high in fiber — such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables — bind to cholesterol and expel it from the body before it can make it into your bloodstream.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as fatty fish, lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, which can help protect your heart.

The Mediterranean diet also recommends limiting foods high in saturated fats — such as red meat and sweets. Saturated fat can increase LDL cholesterol in the body. Those who already have high cholesterol should reduce the amount of saturated fat they eat.

Foods to eat to reduce high cholesterol

Toast with avocado and cress

Toast with avocado and cress | Locknloadlabrador/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Following a Mediterranean-style diet involves eating mostly plant-based foods, such as grains, fruits, and vegetables. However, fish and poultry can also be part of a healthy diet if eaten in moderation and paired with the best possible sides (e.g., a grilled chicken sandwich with a side salad instead of french fries).

Some of the best foods to eat to lower cholesterol include:

  • Whole grains (brown rice, oats/oatmeal, quinoa)
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna).

You probably already know the above foods are good for your health overall. But what many people struggle with more than knowing what’s healthy is eliminating what isn’t.

Foods to avoid if you have high cholesterol

To be clear, saturated fat is not “bad.” It’s probably not the arch nemesis to heart disease we once thought it was.

But if you follow a diet high in calories and foods that don’t benefit your health — many of which contain saturated fat — you’re not doing your heart any favors.

In general, experts strongly advise limiting your consumption of the following:

  • Red and processed meats
  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Coconut oil and other vegetable oils
  • Fried foods
  • Chips, crackers, cookies, and other junk foods and desserts.

High cholesterol doesn’t have to be a death sentence. You can easily manage it with a combination of the right foods, the right amount of exercise, and the appropriate dosage of medication (if applicable). It’s better to know you have it and work to reduce it than not know you have it at all and risk irreversible heart damage.