Eat to lower your cholesterol

Cara Rosenbloom, RD
Heart & Stroke Foundation

Having high blood cholesterol is a risk factor for developing heart disease. But did you know that you can reduce your cholesterol level by making smart food choices? It’s true! Being active and not smoking are other important factors in controlling your blood cholesterol.

Cholesterol clarified

Before we get to the details, let’s be clear on what we’re talking about. Dietary cholesterol is the cholesterol found in foods that come from animals – meat, dairy, seafood and eggs. You eat dietary cholesterol, but it does not all become blood cholesterol.

Blood cholesterol refers to the level of cholesterol in your blood. Most of it is made in your body.

Here’s the important thing: Dietary cholesterol is not the main factor when it comes to increasing your blood cholesterol level. Foods that contain lots of saturated and trans fat are the true culprits.

Now here’s how to make nutritious choices to lower your blood cholesterol.

1. Eat less saturated and trans fat.

Decrease your intake of deep fried foods, baked goods, fatty meat, cream and butter since they are high in saturated and/or trans fat, which raises blood cholesterol levels.

Read Nutrition Facts panels and choose foods that contain no trans fat.Read ingredient lists and avoid foods that contain partially hydrogenated fat or vegetable shortening.

Replace foods that are high in saturated and trans fat with better choices:

Instead of...


Deep fried foods

Baked, roasted, grilled, steamed, stir-fried or broiled items

Baked goods made with hydrogenated oils, which means mostcommercially prepared cakes, pies, cookies and donuts

Whole grain baked goods made with healthy oils

Fatty meats

Lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts




Oil (olive and canola oil are best bets), softnon-hydrogenated margarine


2. Choose more unsaturated fat.

Canada’s Food Guide recommends consuming 30 to 45 mL (2 to 3 tbsp) of unsaturated fat each day. This includes foods like non-hydrogenated margarine, oil, salad dressing, nuts, seeds and avocado. These foods can help lower cholesterol levels when they replace foods that are high in saturated and trans fat. Enjoy the good fats found in fish with our Salmon and pepper oven stir-fry.

3. Get more fibre.

Fibre, especially the soluble type that’s found in oats, barley, oranges and eggplant, can help lower cholesterol levels. Aim to get 10 grams of soluble fibre every day. Each of these options will provide you with two grams:

  • ½ ripe avocado
  • ¼ cup dried figs
  • 1 large orange
  • ½ cup sweet potato
  • ¾ cup broccoli
  • ¾ cup oat bran
  • ¼ cup bran buds
  • ¾ cup chickpeas
  • 2 tbsp flax seeds
  • 3/4 cup eggplant

Try Mushroom and barley bean salad and Pear and lentil muffins for tasty ways to get more fibre.

4. Know how much cholesterol is too much.

If you are healthy, the amount of cholesterol you get from food (dietary cholesterol) usually has little impact on your blood cholesterol level. For heart health, aim for less than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol a day.

However, if you have heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes or a family history of heart disease,aim for less than 200 mg of cholesterol a day.

All animal products (meat and dairy)

contain some cholesterol. Foods higher in cholesterol include egg yolks, liver, caviar and shrimp. Limit these by reading the Nutrition Facts table on packaged foods.

5. If you have high cholesterol, add plant sterols to your diet.

Plant sterols naturally occur in vegetables, fruit, nuts and beans. However, they are found in very small quantities. Studies show that regularly ingesting 2 grams of plant sterols each day can help lower unhealthy cholesterol levels – but that amount is almost impossible to consume through food alone. Instead, look for foods enriched with sterols (the ingredient list will say “plant sterols” or “plant stanols”), such as non-hydrogenated margarine, yogurt, juice and supplements.

Plant sterol enriched foods are not recommended for children, breast-feeding or pregnant women. Lowering blood cholesterol is not normally a priority for these groups.

© – Reproduced with permission of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 2012