Skip to Content
We are here to provide the care you need. Our centers of care are experiencing high volumes and long wait times. Learn about your care options. Currently, no routine visitors are allowed at the hospital or at any outpatient care centers.

NorthShore’s online source for timely health and wellness news, inspiring patient stories and tips to lead a healthy life.

Healthy You

7 Food Strategies to Lower Your Cholesterol

Tuesday, September 28, 2021 9:46 AM

Learn how changing what you eat can reduce blood cholesterol, improve the types of fats floating around in your bloodstream and reduce your risk of artery-clogging cardiovascular disease.

Lower Cholesterol

Here are seven food strategies from Rosemary Weaver, MPH, RDN, LDN, Wellness Center Dietitian at Northwest Community Hospital, that will help reduce your risk, starting today:

  1. Slash saturated fat. Decrease animal fats by skipping fatty, processed meats like bologna, salami, pepperoni and hot dogs as well as fatty red meats like ribs and prime cuts of beef, pork, lamb or veal. Take the skin off chicken or turkey. Forgo full-fat dairy, such as whole milk, whole milk yogurt, and regular cheese. Instead, choose skim or low-fat milk, reduced-fat cheese, and olive oil, or heart-healthy spreads in lieu of butter. Choose one whole egg/day and add additional protein with egg whites. Although not animal fat, avoid using coconut oil, a tropical oil that is even more saturated than butterfat.
  2. Pick plant-based. Substitute plant-based protein, such as beans, lentils, tofu or quinoa for animal protein (meat, poultry, eggs or cheese) one or more times a week. Add these plant-based protein foods to salads, soups, stir-fry, or a burrito to increase fiber intake and decrease saturated fat. Nuts and seeds in moderation also provide some protein and are a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the heart.
  3. Focus on fiber. Learning to like and regularly eat foods high in fiber will help drive down your “bad” cholesterol. Choose oats, oat bran, low-sugar whole grain oat cereal; beans or legumes; barley, ground flaxseed (no more than two tablespoons a day due to its laxative effect), ground psyllium husk fiber (found in Metamucil; ask your doctor if this is OK to include); and whole fruits, especially apples, grapes, berries, cherries, apricots, and citrus fruits, which are high in pectin – a type of soluble fiber.
  4. Vary your veggies. Eat a wide variety of raw and cooked vegetables to provide nutrients and additional fiber. Try adding eggplant or okra on a regular basis which are considered “stars” of the Mediterranean diet and are rich in soluble fiber.
  5. Be choosy about carbs. Emphasizing “good” carbs and cutting out added sugars will help manage weight and can significantly reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Avoid added sugars in drinks, cut out regular desserts and aim for whole grains versus “white” versions of starches. For example, choose brown rice versus white; whole grain or legume pasta versus white; whole-grain wheat, rye, pumpernickel or oat bran bread or wraps versus white; quinoa, farro or barley versus regular couscous. Try to include 5-7 servings or more of vegetables and fruit per day. Legumes are also a “good” carb to choose more often.
  6. “Friend” fish. Heart-healthy Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet eating plans encourage 2-3 fish meals per week. Ditch the breaded and fried versions for grilled, baked or broiled. Especially high in omega-3 heart-healthy fatty acids are: salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna, but all fish provide some omega-3 fats.
  7. Cut out certain coffee shop items or add-ins. Lattes, sweetened or coconut milk smoothies, and other blended drinks can be loaded with flavor – as well as sneaky forms of saturated fat, sugar, and calories. You might even be consuming more than 400 additional calories in one pumpkin spice latte! Ask for low-fat (or nonfat) milk or dairy substitutes (soy or almond milk) instead of cream, whipped cream, or faux-flavored creamers, which are often made with corn syrup solids and hydrogenated oils (trans fats – the worst fat for your heart).

    For sweetening, consider stevia or just a tiny bit of natural honey or agave to lessen your sugar intake. Select smoothies made with unsweetened fruit and low-fat milk, almond milk, soy milk or low-fat yogurt as additions. Choose filtered coffee, because French press, Turkish coffee, and espresso are not filtered and oily compounds called diterpenes seep into the coffee and can raise the bad “LDL” cholesterol component in the blood. Drink no more than one small unfiltered coffee per day.

The more of these strategies you can build into your diet, the greater the impact on your blood fat levels and your overall health. Don’t forget the value of regular, aerobic exercise to increase the “good” HDL cholesterol that helps your heart. Always check with your doctor before beginning or significantly changing your exercise regimen.