The Basics of a Cholesterol-Friendly Diet

Following a well-balanced diet is essential for heart health

Colorful salad
Harald Walker/Stocksy United

When you are first diagnosed as having high cholesterol or triglycerides, the first thing your healthcare provider will do is tell you to follow a lipid-lowering diet. Although there are many different types of diets out there that can help keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels healthy – such as the TLC Diet, My Plate, and the Mediterranean diet – there really isn’t a specific guideline to follow.

All a lipid-lowering diet requires you to do is eat a variety of healthy foods that are low in saturated fat and calories and high in nutrients. A lipid-lowering diet isn't too hard stick to either, since there are also a multitude of low-fat, more natural packaged foods available. So, whether you enjoy experimenting with healthy foods in your cooking, or need a quick meal to fix, a diet to your lower cholesterol and triglycerides can fit easily into your lifestyle – and your plan to keep your heart healthy.

These following foods and tips will help you to select healthy foods for your lipid-lowering diet:

Fruits and Vegetables

The cornerstone of any healthy diet is to include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your meals. Not only are these nutrient-packed foods low in calories and saturated fat, they are also high in fiber and phytosterols – nutrients that have been shown in studies to slightly lower your LDL cholesterol levels.

There are virtually no foods in this category that you need to avoid when following a lipid-lowering diet. According to current dietary guidelines, fruits and veggies should take up half of your meal plate – so, make sure that you load up on these during your shopping trip.


Chickpeas, lentils, and beans are also an excellent food to put on your plate if you are following a lipid-lowering diet.

These foods are not only high in vitamins and minerals – they are also high in cholesterol-lowering fiber. These ingredients, coupled with their high protein content, can also help you to feel fuller after consuming them. Legumes are also very versatile and can be included in a variety of foods – whether you are preparing a quick salad or an elaborate meal.


Nuts are often underrated. They may be small, but they are packed full of nutrients – including heart-healthy fiber and phytosterols. Many nuts are high in unsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids – a type of unsaturated fatty acid that can keep your lipid levels healthy. You only need a handful of your favorite nuts a day to see their health benefits on your cholesterol and triglycerides. Since nuts are calorically dense, you shouldn’t go overboard because it could cause weight gain.

Breads and Grains

Contrary to popular belief, it is OK to include grains in your diet. However, you should watch the type of grain – since, in some cases, foods like bread can be high in refined carbohydrate.

You can switch out grains containing white flour for whole grain foods. Whole grain and whole wheat foods contain more fiber than other types of grains made with refined sugar or white flour, which can keep your LDL cholesterol levels healthy.


The dairy aisle is another area of the grocery store that you do not have to avoid when following a lipid-lowering diet. Full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fat, which has been frowned upon in including in a lipid-lowering diet. However, there are a couple of studies that suggest that dairy products may have a neutral or slightly beneficial impact on your heart health. Some dairy products, such as the probiotics found in yogurt, have also been shown to have a positive impact on your lipid levels. These foods can be higher in calories, so you shouldn’t go overboard. There are also low-fat varieties of your favorite milk and cheese products if you are looking for dairy products low in saturated fat. 


When looking for meat to include in your healthy diet, using lean meats, such as chicken, fish or turkey, can help cut fat and calories from your meals. Red meat – including beef, goat, and pork – is higher in saturated fat, which can add more calories to your meal. If you find that you have a fatty piece of meat on your plate, you can trim the fat away, reducing the amount of fat you consume. However, processed meats – including bologna and sausage – should be limited in your diet, since some studies have shown that regularly consuming these foods could raise your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

There are many other heart-healthy foods that you can put in your shopping cart, too. When in doubt, always check the nutrition label on the food packaging. A cholesterol-friendly food should be low in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates, and high in nutrients such as vitamins, fiber, and protein.


United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020.

de Oliveira Otto MC1, Mozaffarian D, Kromhout D et al. Dietary intake of saturated fat by food source and incident cardiovascular disease: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96:397-404.

Rolfes SR, Whitney E. Understanding Nutrition, 13th ed 2013.

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