Low Cholesterol Diet: Foods to Eat & Avoid (w/ Meal Plan)

A low cholesterol diet is typically low in saturated and trans-fat and sugar free. It aims to improve blood circulation and reduce the risk for the accumulation of fat in the blood, which can prevent cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and stroke. 

In addition, it is important to increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These foods are high in giber, which can regulate cholesterol levels and decrease fat absorption in the gut. 

It is important for this type of diet to be combined with regular physical activity, at least 3 times a week for 1 hour. Exercise promotes weight loss and muscle gains, which can also lead to decreased cholesterol levels and better overall heart health. 

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Foods to eat

Foods that are appropriate for a low cholesterol diet include: 

  • High fiber foods, like oats, whole wheat bread, whole grain rice, whole grain pasta and whole wheat flours (e.g. carob flour, almond flour and buckwheat flour) 
  • Fruits and vegetables, preferable raw and with the peel to increase fiber content. You should aim for 3 to 5 portions per day.
  • Legumes, like beans, chickpeas, lentils and soybeans, at least twice a day. 
  • Nuts like walnuts, almonds, Brazilian nuts and peanuts. Not only are these high in giber, but they contain HDL, or good cholesterol. They should be consumed in moderation, however, as they are high in calories. 
  • Skim milk and dairy products, white, low fat cheeses, and natural, sugar-free yogurts. 
  • Lean white meat like chicken, fish and turkey.

Foods should be boiled or steamed when possible, and you should avoid fried food, stews, and ready-made sauces and spices. You can flavor your food using natural spices, like rosemary, oregano, coriander or parsley. 

It is also important to drink around 2.5 L of water per day, and to aim for 3 meals and 2 snacks per day. 

There are some foods with specific properties that can be included in your low cholesterol diet as a means to manage  cholesterol levels. These include: 

Foods Properties How to consume
Tomato, guava, watermelon, grapefruit and carrots  These foods contains lycopene, which is a substance with antioxidant properties that help to decrease LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and increase HDL ("good" cholesterol).  They can be incorporated into salads, natural sauces, smoothies and juices. 
Red wine This drink contains resveratrol and other compounds that have an antioxidant effects, which can prevent fat molecules from depositing in arteries and promote circulation  Consume just 1 to 2 glasses of red wine at lunch or at dinner.  
Salmon, hake, tuna, nuts and chia seeds  These are rich in omega-3s that contain anti-inflammatory properties. They also prevent blood clots that can block arteries and lead to a heart attack, as well as reduce the formation of fatty plaques along the arteries.  These foods should be included in a varied diet. You should aim for 3 to 4 portions of these foods per week.
Purple grapes This fruit is rich in resveratrol, tannins and flavonoids, which are compounds that exert a powerful antioxidant effect. They help to dilate blood vessels and decrease cholesterol.  They can be used in juices and consumed as dessert. 
Garlic and black garlic These contain a substance known as allicin, which can manage LDL levels and help reduce blood pressure. This substance also prevents the formation of clots, which can decrease the risk for a heart attack or stroke. These can be used to season foods. 
Olive oil Olive oil impedes the oxidation of cholesterol. It contains anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce blood pressure.  You should aim for 1 tablespoon of of olive oil per day, which can be added to salads or directly on meals prior to eating. When heated, olive oil tends to lose many of its properties. 
Lemons Lemons contain antioxidant that help to prevent the oxidation of HDL. Lemon juice can be added to salads or mixed with other juices or teas.
Oats Oats are rich in beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber that helps to decrease cholesterol levels.  They can be added to juices or smoothies, or used to in cake or cookie recipes. It is also possible to eat 1 cup of oats for breakfast, or to use oat milk as a substitute for cow milk.
Artichokes This plant is rich in fiber and luteolin, an antioxidant that prevents high LDL levels, and promotes good cholesterol levels.  This plant can be used as a side for main dishes, or it can consumed as a supplement or made as a tea. 
Cinnamon and turmeric These spices are rich in antioxidants and fibers, which elp to boost blood circulation and promote lower cholesterol levels.  These aromatic spices can be added to meals and snacks. 

There are also some natural herbs that can be used for tea to lower cholesterol, such as artichoke tea and dandelion tea. 

Foods to avoid

Some food can lead to a higher LDL level, as they are rich in saturated fat, trans fat and/or sugar. These foods should be avoided or eaten in moderation, and include:

  • Animal organ meat, like liver, kidneys and heart
  • Sausages and fatty cold cuts, like hot dogs, chorizo, bacon, salami and prosciutto 
  • Fatty cuts of red meat 
  • Whole milk, yogurt with added sugar, butter and margarine 
  • Yellow cheese and cream cheese
  • Sauces like ketchup, mayonnaise, aioli, and barbeque sauce 
  • Oil and fried foot in general
  • Processed food, frozen food and fast food
  • Alcohol 

In addition, foods that are high in sugar, like cakes, cookies and chocolate, should not be consumed or just eaten in moderation. Its high sugar contents accumulate as fat in the body, which promotes the production of cholesterol in the liver.

Low cholesterol diet meal plan

The following table outlines a 3-day meal plan for a low cholesterol diet:

Meals Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Breakfast 1 cup of oat milk + 1 slice of whole grain bread toasted with peanut butter 1 cup of coffee, black + 1 slice of whole grain bread with 2 tablespoons of ricotta cheese + 2 cups of purple grapes  Oatmeal made with 1 cup of oats and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon +  1/2 cup of sliced fruit + 1 cup of orange juice, unsweetened 
Morning snack 1 cup of natural grape juice without sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon of oats + 30 g of walnuts  1 medium banana sliced with 1 tablespoon of oats  1 unsweetened natural yogurt + 1/2 cup of sliced fruits + 1 teaspoon of chia seeds 
Lunch or dinner Mashed potatoes with grilled salmon + 1/2 cup of broccoli and carrot salad seasoned with 1 teaspoon of olive oil + 1 apple  Whole grain pasta with turkey breast, cubed, with natural tomato sauce and oregano + steamed spinach salad seasoned with 1 teaspoon of olive oil + 1 pear  Sauteed asparagus with grilled chicken + salad with lettuce tomato and carrot + 1 teaspoon of olive oil + 1 cup of purple grapes 
Afternoon snack

1 unsweetened Greek yogurt with fruit + 1 tablespoon of chia seeds 

1 cup of cubed watermelon  1 smoothie (200 mL) made with avocado, natural yogurt and 1 teaspoon of flaxseed + 30 g of almonds 
Evening snack 1 cup of artichoke tea, unsweetened  1 cup of dandelion tea, unsweetened  1 cup of turmeric tea, unsweetened 

The quantities indicated above will vary depending on age, sex, activity level and health status. Therefore, you should see a registered dietitian for a more detailed assessment and customized meal plan that meets your needs. 

Do eggs increase cholesterol levels?

Egg yolks are rich in cholesterol, although foods that naturally contain cholesterol have a low risk for causing cellular damage. This type of cholesterol is different from the cholesterol found in processed food. 

The American Heart Association recommends healthy people to consume 1 to 2 eggs per day, while people with diabetes or a history of heart disease should consume only 1 per day. Therefore, it is fully possible to include eggs in a low cholesterol diet, as long as they are not eaten excessively.