Ask the RD · Nutrition

Ask the RD: High Cholesterol

Q: My doctor told me I have high cholesterol. How can I change my diet to lower my levels?

A: Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is part of everyone one of your body’s cells. It is transported in your blood and too high of levels can increase your risk of heart disease and heart attack.

The good news is that by making changes to your diet and lifestyle you can reduce your cholesterol levels and risk of disease.

1. Limit intake of saturated and trans fats. 

Saturated and trans fats are found primarily in red meats, whole milk dairy products, fried foods and packaged snack products such as crackers, cookies and cakes. Saturated fats tend to raise both total and LDL “bad” cholesterol levels, while trans fats also reduce our”good” HDL cholesterol levels.

Meat lover? Look for lean cuts of meat with little white fat marbling. The following tend to be good options:

  • Top round, bottom round
  • Top sirloin
  • Eye of round

Switching from whole-milk dairy products to low-fat and skim varieties comes down to changing your taste buds.

  • Gradually replace the milk in your bowl of cereal with 2%, 1% and then skim. The same goes for yogurt as well as the cream or milk you use in our coffee.
  • Look for 2% milk fat cheeses for more frequent use, and save your full-fat artisan varieties for special occasions. Feta, goat, Neufchâtel, and part-skim mozzarella are naturally lower in fat.

2. Emphasize heart healthy fats. 

Certain unsaturated fats have shown beneficial for reducing cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fats, found in olive and canola oils, peanuts, almonds and avocados help to reduce bad cholesterol.

Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, don’t affect your bad cholesterol, but do help to raise good cholesterol and improve other measures of cardiovascular health. Top sources of omega-3 fatty acids are cold-water fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna), walnuts, and flaxseeds.

Tips for increasing your intake of healthy fats:

  • Replace bottled salad dressings with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice.
  • Snack on nuts, specifcally almonds, walnuts, cashews and pistachios.  Nuts are calorie-dense and can pack on the pounds quickly, so be sure  to use a measuring cup or food scale to portion out 1/4 cup servings.
  • Prepare an omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish such as salmon or mackerel twice a week. Bake, broil or grill your fish.

3. Utilize natural cholesterol binders. 

Soluble fiber acts a cholesterol binder, attaching to cholesterol molecules in the digestive system, and thus preventing them from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Some of the best sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal and oat bran, corn bran, apples, beans and legumes.


Soluble fiber-rich apple slices paired with almond butter, a source of monounsaturated fats makes for a great cholesterol reducing snack.


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