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.

DO cut back on trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids are formed during the process of hydrogenation, which makes a fat more saturated and extends its shelf life. Avoid the term "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" on the ingredient list of margarines, as well as packaged foods, cookies and crackers.

DON’T forget to go fishing. Fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, is good for cholesterol. It is recommended to eat at least 6-8 ounces of baked or broiled fish each week. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and halibut are excellent sources.


DON’T smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. It decreases your HDL (high density lipoprotein, the good cholesterol) levels.

DO get moving. Physical activity is an important part of a heart-healthy routine. It can also help you control your weight and lower your blood pressure. Shoot for at least 30 minutes of activity every day.

DO lose weight, if you are overweight. People who maintain a healthful weight (a BMI of 18-24) are not only less likely to develop heart disease, but also high blood pressure and diabetes. Lose unwanted pounds by eating fewer calories and increasing your physical activity on a regular basis.

DON’T forget to know your numbers. Get your blood cholesterol levels checked yearly.

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Member Comments

  • If these tips don't work--try what I do-- I follow a LCHF diet and my cholesterol went down 90 points in 2 months.
  • I was just reading the information in the reference section on fats and oils at http://www.sparkp
    ce_fats.asp and it has olives listed in 2 different section in the chart at the bottom of that page. In the fruits & veggies section is states to only have olives 3 or 4 times per week, but in the fats and oils section it states to choose Olives and olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil daily. Not that it really matters to me since I don't eat olives, but that is a bit confusing.
  • I needed to see this again!
    Some days you just can't win! BUT! Then there are OTHERS!
  • Much of the information in this article does not apply if you are a diabetic. Diabetics need to eliminate things like bread, rice, pasta, etc for being high carb foods.
  • I am disappointed in the continuation of pushing old ideas based on non-scientific "proof" -- correlations, at best... and most studies are male-oriented.

    New and REAL, proper scientific studies are actually disproving a lot of what you are touting.

    Please, please, PLEASE start looking into updated information!
  • It is impossible to limit your cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams a day. I workout 5-6 days a week, eat a high protein diet, and just a few eggs in my first meal of the day will blow that limit out of the water! So I'm supposed to eat healthy. people say eat chicken, beef, seafood. Guess what they're all loaded with cholesterol! So I don't care what this article is telling you to do. Easier said than done. It won't work. Even the cholesterol lower medications I take don't work. It is hereditary and I'm sick of the blood work telling me it is too high. It is what it is. The only way to keep your cholesterol intake under 300 mg is to starve yourself on a daily basis, and I'm not going that route. Fvck it I have to die someday anyway...
  • I have just received an email directing me to read this article - it's now Sept 2016. As others have commented months and months ago, this dietry cholesterol info is out of date yet Spark people are still pushing it. Guess we really are being advised by robots. So long SP, I wil be looking for a site involving humsns in its management.
  • I was going to say the same thing. The amount of cholesterol you eat has nothing to do with your cholesterol level in the blood... the newest and best research shows!
    But the amount of carbs, especially sugar carbs and/or bad fats do. No canola oil.
    Coconut oil, Olive oil, grapeseed oil,,,,, are wonderful!! and animal fat is not bad ......
    yup, the article needs updated for sure.
  • JMB369
    SPARK PEOPLE MANAGERS! This article contains OUTDATED INFORMATION. I have always recommended SP to my friends as a source of good information on nutrition and exercise. But you can't keep recycling the same old aetickes. Research continues and sometimes lead to radical changes in the conclusions. Eggs are okay! Meat fat from organic grass fed animals is okay. Canola oil is not okay. Grains and beans are NOT okay for everyone. Sugar and artificial sweeteners are bigger culprits than healthy fats. Sufficient high quality sleep may be more important to our health than diet and exercise. Please keep us current!
  • DO get some better family genes. What is wrong with you anyway?
  • My mother cooked bacon or pork sausage and eggs (cooked in bacon or sausage grease) for breakfast almost every day, and saved the bacon grease for cooking things like fried chicken and making gravy; she and my father lived to be 95, and were healthy along the way. They grew up in the Depression era on farms, and so were used to eating foods that were close to the source; unprocessed in other words.

    My brother-in-law had such high cholesterol that his doctor wanted to put him on a cholesterol-lower
    ing drug. My sister, who has a lot of knowledge of nutrition, had him start taking psyllium root powder instead, and his numbers went down enough that the doctor said he didn't need the drug.

    Keep your food close to the source: remember the saying that too many cooks spoil the broth. Grow a garden if you can. Get a lot of exercise. And don't worry so much about avoiding fat.
    Cholesterol is ESSENTIAL for brain health and hormone function. 'Bad' HDL cholesterol is not caused by dietary cholesterol, but actually a result of high insulin response in those with a high sugar/carbohydrat
    e diet (that includes whole grains!). Not only do healthy fats like olive, coconut and avocado oil NOT make you fat, they can actually help you lose weight by easing the transition away from sugary foods in order to lower blood sugar levels and inflammation, as well as promote satiety. Canola, and other vegetable oils have been proven to be less healthy due to their exposure to pesticides and their tendency to go rancid before they've even made it to the supermarket.
    Very disappointed in some of the outdated nutrition information given out here sometimes...
  • MAMAMASON 64 my mother had incredible results but cooking oatmeal muffins bought her cholesterol levels way down

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.

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