Health benefits of a low cholesterol diet

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, fat-like substance found in your body’s cells and bloodstream. Your body produces cholesterol naturally, and the rest comes from the food you eat. According to the American Heart Association, your body makes all the cholesterol you need and circulates it through your bloodstream.

Cholesterol is found in the structure of all cells in the body. It helps digest fat and produce vitamin D and hormones such as testosterone and estrogen.

Cholesterol comes in two types

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is sometimes referred to as “good cholesterol.” HDL removes cholesterol from the artery walls and transports it to the liver where it is removed from the body.

Foods containing HDL are nuts, soy, and fish.

Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) is often referred to as “bad cholesterol.” LDL deposits cholesterol in the artery walls, which can cause buildup (known as plaque) that can narrow or block blood vessels and increase the risk of heart and vascular disease.

High cholesterol foods to avoid

Foods that likely raise LDL cholesterol contain saturated fat and trans-fat.

Highly saturated foods are animal products such as: high-fat cuts of beef, lamb, pork, butter, cream, ice cream, whole milk, cheese, egg yolks, and foods that are made with these products.

Foods high in trans-fat are: fried foods, commercially baked goods (donuts, cookies, crackers), processed foods, and margarines. Try to find trans-fat free margarines, or use olive or canola oil instead of butter or margarine when you are cooking.

Low cholesterol food options

The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts to lower cholesterol. AHA also says to limit red meat and sugary foods and beverages.

Why is excess cholesterol bad?

Too much cholesterol causes plaque buildup in the artery walls. It is more difficult for the heart to circulate blood through the arteries when there is plaque buildup. Plaque buildup can also cause blood clots, which can lead to stroke or heart attack.

A final note:

While many other factors such as a lack of exercise, being overweight, age, and heredity contribute to cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet is the first step anyone can take to help fight high cholesterol.

Last reviewed: 
January 2016

Interested in using our health content?