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High cholesterol diet guidelines

If you have high cholesterol, you aren’t alone: nearly half of American adults have high cholesterol. Your body needs some cholesterol to produce cells and certain hormones. However, too much of this waxy substance in the blood clogs arteries.

Your genes determine how much cholesterol your body produces naturally. The rest comes from the foods you eat. Follow these steps to help prevent, or lower, high blood cholesterol levels.

Cut back on saturated fat

Saturated fats increase “bad” low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Keep your intake of saturated fat to 5%-6% of your total daily calories. (If you eat 2,000 calories per day, this is 11-13 grams of saturated fat.) The main sources of saturated fat are whole milk and full-fat dairy products, butter, red meat, chocolate, and palm oil.

Watch out for trans fat

Trans fats are found in partially hydrogenated oils. They are a problem, because they raise LDL cholesterol and lower “good” HDL cholesterol. Many experts say there is no safe level and recommend avoiding trans fats entirely.

Trans fats are found in commercially prepared baked goods, margarines, snack foods, processed foods, and commercially prepared fried foods.

Replace saturated fats with healthier ones

Most of the fat in your diet should come from unsaturated fats. These fats may help lower your blood cholesterol level when you use them in place of saturated and trans fats in your diet.

You can find unsaturated fats in some plant oils, including safflower, sesame, olive, and canola oils. Other healthy fats are found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, as well as in avocados and nuts.

Stay active

Regular physical activity can help lower triglycerides (high levels of this common fat may increase buildup in arteries). Exercise can also lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol, as well as help you to maintain (or lose) weight. Try to get at least 30 minutes of activity on most, if not all, days.

Keep your weight in check

It’s especially important to lose weight if you have a cluster of risk factors for obesity-related conditions (e.g., heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes). Risk factors include high triglycerides, low HDL levels, being overweight, and having a waist measurement more than 40 inches (men) or 35 inches (women).

Eat more fiber

One type of fiber—soluble fiber—can reduce LDL cholesterol. How? Soluble fiber becomes gel-like when it dissolves in the intestines, then binds some of the dietary cholesterol in the gut, so you can’t absorb it. You can find it in foods such as oatmeal, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, apples, pears, barley, and prunes. 

Consider adding plant sterols to your diet

If you have high cholesterol, plant sterols may help. Plant sterols are a class of micronutrients present in small amounts in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cereals, legumes, and vegetable oils. Plus, you can also find foods that are fortified with sterols.


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