People have varying degrees of success in lowering their cholesterol by changing their diets. Those who are most successful using diet changes to lower their cholesterol are those who lose excess weightDietchanges are usually the first step in lowering cholesterol before medicines are added.

The diet’s main focus is to reduce the amount of saturated fat you eat, because saturated fat elevates your cholesterol. You can reduce the saturated fat in your diet by limiting the amount of meat and whole milk products you eat. Choose low-fat products from those food groups instead. Replace most of the animal fat in your diet with unsaturated fat, especially monounsaturated oils, such as olive, canola, or peanut oil. If monounsaturated fat is substituted for saturated fat, it lowers LDL(“bad”) cholesterol and keeps HDL (“good”) cholesterol up.

What can you eat?

The TLC diet recommends that you eat specific amounts of different types of foods. These amounts are sometimes a percentage of your total calorie intake for each day.

  • Saturated fat: Less than 7% of total calories
  • Polyunsaturated fat: Up to 10% of total calories
  • Monounsaturated fat: Up to 20% of total calories
  • Carbohydrate: 50% to 60% of total calories
  • Soluble fiber: At least 5 to 10 grams a day
  • Protein: Approximately 15% of total calories
  • Cholesterol: Less than 200 mg a day
  • Total calories: Balance calories taken in and calories burned to reach and stay at a healthy weight.

Avoid trans fat. Foods with trans fats include some vegetable shortening, crackers, cookies, and packaged snack foods.

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet recommendations
Food group Number of servings Serving size
Lean meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, and dry peas No more than 5 ounces total a day
  • 5 ounces maximum a day of lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • Substitute ¼ cup dry beans or peas for 1 ounce of meat.
Eggs No more than 2 yolks a week 1 whole egg. Egg whites or substitutes are not limited.
Low-fat milk and milk products 2–3 a day
  • 1 cup fat-free or 1% milk
  • 1 cup nonfat or low-fat yogurt
  • 1 ounce nonfat or low-fat cheese (3 grams of fat or less per ounce)
Fruits 2–4 a day
  • 1 piece fruit, such as apple, orange, or ½ a banana
  • ½ cup canned fruit
  • 1 cup berries or melon
  • ¾ cup fruit juice
Vegetables 3–5 a day
  • 1 cup raw leafy greens
  • ½ cup cooked or raw vegetables
  • ¾ cup vegetable juice
Bread, cereals, pasta, rice, and other grains At least 6 a day
  • 1 slice of bread
  • ½ hot dog or hamburger bun, bagel, or English muffin
  • 1 ounce cold cereal
  • ½ cup cooked pasta, rice, noodles, or other grains
Sweets and snacks Within calorie limit Choose snacks that are low in fat or are made with unsaturated fat.

Your doctor or dietitian might recommend that you add soluble fiber or a cholesterol-lowering margarine to your diet. These might help you lower LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber is found in foods like oats, beans, and fruit. Cholesterol-lowering margarines contain plant stanols and sterols.

Foods to avoid

Check food labels for fat and cholesterol content. Try to:

  • Limit saturated fat and oils, such as butter, bacon drippings, lard, palm oil, and coconut oil. Instead, use soft tub margarine or vegetable oils, such as olive or canola oil.
  • Avoid trans fatty acids or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These oils go through a process that makes them solid. They’re found in some hard margarines, snack crackers, cookies, chips, and shortenings.
  • Limit fatty meats such as corned beef, pastrami, ribs, steak, ground meat, hot dogs, sausage, bacon, and processed meats like bologna. Also limit egg yolks and organ meats like liver and kidney. Replace with skinless chicken or turkey, lean beef, veal, pork, lamb, and fish. Try some meatless main dishes, like beans, peas, pasta, or rice.
  • Limit meat, poultry, and fish to no more than two servings, or 5 oz (140 g), a day. Remember that a serving is about the size of a deck of playing cards.
  • Limit milk products that contain more than 1% milk fat. This includes cream, most cheeses, and nondairy coffee creamers or whipped toppings (which often contain coconut or palm oils). Instead try fat-free or low-fat milk (0% to 1% fat) and low-fat cheeses.
  • Limit snack crackers, muffins, quick breads, croissants, and cakes made with saturated or hydrogenated fat, whole eggs, or whole milk. Try low-fat baked goods, and use any spreads or toppings lightly.
  • Dip bread in olive oil instead of spreading butter or margarine on your bread.
  • Avoid fast foods like hamburgers, fries, fried chicken, and tacos. They are high in both total fat and saturated fat. When you eat out, choose broiled sandwiches or chicken without skin, salads with low-fat dressing, and foods that aren’t fried. Ask the server to leave off the cheese and high-fat dressings like mayonnaise.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

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