Nutrition Articles

The Keys to Conquering Cholesterol

Do's and Don'ts for a Healthy Heart


Heart disease is a scary thing. In the face of dire risk factor statistics and horror stories about cholesterol, you can easily get rattled. You might feel overwhelmed by the whole cholesterol question, and feel like you face uninformed life and death decisions every time you sit down at the table.

But reducing your risk of heart disease is not an impossible task. All it takes is a few simple adjustments.

Your cholesterol level is determined by several factors, including your genetic makeup, your diet, and certain lifestyle choices. You can’t do anything about genes passed down from Grandpa Charlie, but you can change your future with a few new, heart-friendly lifestyle choices.

The list below contains several strategies to help you develop cholesterol-smart, heart-healthy habits. These nutritional do’s and don’ts won’t have you feeling deprived, or require you to train for a marathon. They will, however, make your heart very happy. And a happy heart has nothing to be afraid of.

DO watch your cholesterol intake. Dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol you eat) may raise blood cholesterol levels. Limit dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams a day.

DO limit the fat in your diet. A diet rich in fat encourages weight gain and may lead to elevated blood cholesterol levels.

DON’T eliminate all fat from your diet. You need some fat in your diet for good health. Fat adds pleasure to your meal and makes you feel satisfied after the meal. Fat also gives flavor, texture, and moisture to food.

DO choose olive oil and canola oil for salad dressing, sautéing vegetables, cooking and baking. They are rich in monounsaturated fat, the heart healthy fat.

DON’T forego seeds and nuts, like almonds, walnuts, pecans, and peanuts. These are high in the healthy monounsaturated fats. A small handful 3-5 times a week can help prevent heart disease and increase your HDL (high density lipoprotein, the good cholesterol) levels.

DO find more soluble fiber. Soluble fiber may help lower blood cholesterol levels. It is found in oats, rice, bran, barley, dried peas and beans, and certain fruits like prunes and apples.

DON’T overlook complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Choose more whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, brown rice, and dried beans and peas. Enjoy fruits and vegetables more often.

DON’T overindulge in salt. High blood pressure is associated with a diet high in sodium. Check labels carefully and watch the amount of salt you use in cooking and at the table.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • My cholesterol has always been normal. I think I must've lost my weight before having to worry about that. - 10/5/2015 1:06:56 PM
  • I had high cholesterol (hello genetics and horrific lifestyle choices), and I am allergic to all cholesterol lowering medications. Faced with zero other options, I truly embarked on the train to wellness. Prior to this, I had lost some weight, tweaked my diet some, and went to yoga three times a week. Popping a statin was the primary way I brought my cholesterol down and kept all my numbers in line. Realization finally hit that I will forever be the only way numbers to keep my numbers in line. Reeducation on diet was clutch...I am not a vegetarian, but I eat so much fish, chicken, and turkey that I swear I might grow feathers, cluck, and breathe through gills. Adding fiber was key, especially the water soluble kinds...oatmeal (sometimes in the form of Cheerios), and ground milled flaxseeds are staples. Lastly, exercise has become significantly different. Heart pounding cardio (I have fake knees and am mindful of impact) and strength training are regularly part of my workouts. One day I just decided no more excuses, bad attitude, nor ignorance on the subject matter...I haven't looked back, nor am I what I once was. I do not remotely look or feel like the same person, and my "numbers" (excluding BMI, still working on that one) are terrific. It didn't happen overnight, yet this will be how I live for the rest of my life. - 9/26/2015 7:15:58 AM
  • I understand these are all good suggestions but what does salt have to do with lowering cholesterol? - 9/25/2015 10:19:28 PM
  • I was obese all of my life. Now all of my lipids are in the perfect range by following a low carb (not no carb) diet and lifestyle. I feel so much better, especially if I avoid wheat. - 9/25/2015 11:20:41 AM
  • "As recently as 2010, US dietary guidelines described cholesterol-rich foods as "foods and food components to reduce."1 They advised people to eat less than 300 milligrams (mg) per day, despite mounting evidence that dietary cholesterol has very little to do with cholesterol levels in your body.

    Now, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has done a complete about-face. They are finally acknowledging what the science shows, which is that "cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption."

    This latter statement, which came from a DGAC meeting, is expected to change the books, so to speak, when it comes to dietary cholesterol recommendations in the soon-to-be-releas
    ed 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans".

    com/nbrbxyd - 9/25/2015 11:15:29 AM
  • CLAY10237
    Yup. This article needs some crucial updating. Apparently Spark management isn't reading comments.
    I am genetically predisposed to very high cholesterol. Started taking statins in my early 40s when I weighed 120. Having taken different ones over the years but, because my numbers won't go down as far the doctor wants, I was put on Lipitor, again. It does a great job bringing blood levels down. BUT, at 66, the side effects (muscle pain) were nearly totally immobilizing . Stopped taking it, within 3 days I felt 100% better. I'm thinking I not taking anymore statins, ever.
    For me, the best cholesterol lowering strategy is consistent exercise, attention to my diet and a doctor that understands the dynamics of cholesterol, LDL, HDL, statins, and genetics.
    Good luck to us. - 8/27/2015 11:30:56 PM
  • I wish sites like this would keep up with the times and scientific evidence. Fat in the diet does not affect cholesterol. It's the high carb and sugar that causes inflammation in the body including the walls of the arteries. When this happens cholesterol is released to try to repair the damage the the cholesterol numbers rise. Statins are horrendous on the liver and can cause all sorts of other maladies. The FDA food pyramid is a killer for people with diabetes and high cholesterol. No one should be eating 50%-60% carbs or more in their diet. Avocados, olive oil, (which are fats) are great for cholesterol. Also a SOLUBLE fiber that soaks up cholesterol in the gut. It's next to impossible to get all the soluble fiber from food. There's a huge difference between soluble and insoluble fiber and most people do not know the difference. - 7/17/2015 6:35:47 PM
    Diagnosed with very high cholesterol yesterday. Doctor was willing to give me 90 days to see if lifestyle changes can lower. Already a vegetarian, almost vegan, so not too much opptortunity there.

    I don't eat fish so added omega 3 caps. May consider eating fish if necessary.

    Has anyone on here been successful with lowering their cholesterol by increasing oats, barley, apples, spinach and other nutrient dense veggies, citrus, avocados, nuts, etc. ? - 5/9/2015 10:25:54 AM
  • This article needs an update badly. According to the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidlines cholesterol in foods does not raise blood cholesterol. - 4/13/2015 3:59:37 PM
    This best about The Keys to Conquering Cholesterol and what Supplements To Lower Cholesterol

    please visit : http://1healthlif
    supplements-to-lower.html - 9/1/2014 7:11:07 AM
    Btw, I took a statin for years, as my cholesterol was very high and my numbers were not in a healthy ratio. It drastically brought my total cholesterol down, and I had no ill effects. As I was taking the lowest available dosage of the drug (10mg), I asked my MD if I could come off the meds for a while to see if I could control things with an improved diet and weight loss. I personally would take the statin again if the need arose. - 8/28/2014 10:16:43 AM
    I didn't read all the responses, but agreed with most I did read -- fat is not the main problem, simple carbs are. The SAD is replete with an overabundance of sugar, and sugar seems to be the major culprit in a myriad of diseases. Cholesterol is necessary for us to properly function; it's a problem only when it's deposited on the artery walls, inhibiting blood flow, and current science attributes that to particular types of cholesterol. Keep your HDL high and your LDL low. I'm disappointed in the information presented in the article. - 8/28/2014 10:11:54 AM
  • As many others have pointed out, there is so much misinformation in this article. I suggest anyone with high cholesterol talk to more than one doctor and do some research. Many doctors are not up on the latest research and are going on what they learned in med school 20-30 years ago. - 8/28/2014 7:56:43 AM
  • MSHERER1622
    This article hits a nerve for me, and it's difficult to articulate why, but I'd say it is representative of a nutritional paradigm that gave us the low fat, high carb diet that has created a nation of overweight people, precipitated a diabetes epidemic and done nothing to reduce heart disease. And it represents a medical paradigm that treats symptoms rather than root causes, that treats biomarkers like diseases, and trusts pharmaceuticals to solve chronic health issues.

    To fix the article, you'd need to change the title, which implies that Cholesterol causes heart disease and is perhaps the sole or primary cause (the truth is vastly more complex). Then you'd need to add a line noting that consumption of sugar and processed carbs raises triglyceride levels, which has been shown to make cholesterol more atherogenic and contribute to metabolic syndrome. And you'd need to acknowledge that statins can increase insulin resistance, cause memory, muscle problems and cataracts in some people, and have a minor impact on all cause mortality. You'd need to at least acknowledge the role of systemic inflammation in chronic disease and note that sugar, processed carbs and grain oils are inflammatory, as is your own visceral fat. You'd need to acknowledge there is considerable interest among researchers in the role of the gut microbiota in metabolic diseases and caution people about unnecessary antibiotic use, artificial sweeteners, and other behaviors that affect gut health, And for people who have serious heart disease, you'd note that a vegan, nutrient dense diet can reverse heart disease. There, I feel much better.
    - 8/28/2014 7:15:58 AM
  • Just getting started with some seriousness. I'm a 45 year old female just released from an overnight stay at the hospital for fear of a heart attack! CONCLUSION...My Cholesterol needs to come down drastically. Please forgive me for not knowing all the right language..but my triclycerides(??) is 275 should be 150..and something else is 215 and should be 200. I've talked my Dr into giving me 3 months to begin a healthier diet and exercise to bring the levels drastically down. Otherwise in three months I will need to put on medication. This is something I want to avoid if I can. I want to have the opportunity to try to decrease the levels myself before I have to resort to the medication. So I need ALL the assistance with this I can get. Any suggestions is greatly appreciated! - 8/12/2014 4:05:24 PM

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