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Cholesterol-Lowering: Heart-Healthy Strategies

  1. Limit fat. Limit total fat to 20-35% of your total calorie intake, which for a 2,000-calorie diet is 45-75 grams. Limit saturated fat to 5-6% of total calories, which is 11-13 grams per day. Avoid trans fatty acids. Read label guidelines to select products with zero grams trans fat and less than two grams saturated fat per serving.
  2. If you are overweight, losing weight will help lower your total cholesterol and raise your high density lipoprotein (HDL).
  3. Aerobic exercise helps raise your HDL. If you have not exercised in a while, check with your doctor before starting. Start your exercise slowly and build up to 30-40 minutes at least 5 times per week. Brisk walking counts as aerobic exercise. If you develop any unexplained, recurrent chest pain, skipping of the heart, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness, see your personal physician or cardiologist for evaluation.
  4. Gradually increase fiber intake (goal: 25-35 grams per day). Select whole grain products. Focus on soluble fiber, which is found in fruits, legumes, dried beans, root vegetables, oats, barley, and flaxseed. Consuming soluble fiber lowers LDL. Blueberries, nectarines, raspberries, apples, apricots, figs, prunes, zucchini, cabbage, beans, peas, and lentils are all excellent sources of soluble fiber. Psyllium is a soluble fiber added to foods like cereals and breads. It is also found in laxative products.
  5. Choose skinless chicken, turkey, and fish--baked, broiled, or grilled--as your animal sources of protein. Limit total animal sources to 6 ounces per day. Try limiting lean red meat (beef, pork, veal, lamb) to once a week, selecting only the leanest cuts. Rather than making meat the focal point of the meal, try the plating method ( fill half of the plate with non-starchy vegetables and one-quarter of the plate with a starchy vegetable like potato, peas, corn, lima beans or brown rice, or pasta. That leaves only one-quarter of the plate for lean protein.
  6. Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, and mackerel are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Aim for at least 2 portions per week (6 ounces total). Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are chia seeds or flaxseed. Add chia seeds or ground or milled flaxseed to cereal or sprinkle it on salad. Aim for 2 tablespoons/day. (Whole flaxseed is not absorbed by the body and will not provide the same benefit.) Eat nuts such as walnuts and almonds for additional omega-3 fatty acids.
  7. Choose at least one meatless meal per week. Try using protein sources like dried beans or canned beans like navy, pinto, black, kidney, or garbanzo.
  8. Do not skip meals. Research indicates that cholesterol levels may be higher when you eat fewer meals. Skipping meals may also contribute to overeating later in the day.
  9. Limit refined foods and foods that contain sugar (such as white flour, desserts, candy, juices, fruit drinks, soda pop, and sweetened beverages. The American Heart Association recommends:
    • No more than six teaspoons of sugar or 100 calories a day for most women.
    • No more than nine teaspoons of sugar or 150 calories a day for most men.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines suggest limiting added sugars to no more than 10% of calories. For example, a 2000-calorie diet would be limited to 200 calories from sugar.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 8/12/2015...#10842