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Combating High Cholesterol

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We will round out American Heart Month with tips to fight high cholesterol. High cholesterol increases the risk of having a stroke or heart attack. According to the CDC, about 34% of Americans have LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels above the recommended upper limit of (200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).

What can you do to lower your cholesterol? Family history plays a big role in cholesterol, but being active and eating healthy are also really important. If you follow a few simple guidelines and visit your health practitioner regularly, you will be on your way to lowering your cholesterol and your heart disease and stroke risk.

Research indicates that reducing saturated fat in your diet is helpful when it comes to reducing your risk for or treating high cholesterol. But when it comes to reducing your saturated fat, not all substitutions are equal. It’s best if you can replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats found in non-tropical oils (think olive, canola, corn, and vegetable; not coconut), fish, avocados, and nuts instead of foods that are high in carbohydrates.  Don’t replace saturated fat with sugar or refined starch.

Eating to lower your cholesterol can be easy if you learn a few simple tricks for eating healthy while still enjoying your favorite foods. The secret lies in the foods we choose more often and how we prepare the foods we love.

A few simple changes to your favorite recipes can make them healthier. While some substitutions may change the taste of certain foods, you may find that you like the new taste better.  

Healthy Choices and Substitutions:

  1. Choose leaner cuts of meat and remove the skin from poultry. Drain or skim the fat when browning meat in a skillet or making soups and stews.
  2. Choose fish two times per week and stick to baking, broiling, or grilling. Canned tuna in water is a convenient choice for getting your weekly fish servings. Other good choices are salmon, herring, lake trout, and sardines.
  3. When sautéing veggies or meats, opt for olive oil, canola oil, a fat-free cooking spray, or low-sodium broth instead of butter or bacon fat.
  4. When buying ground beef, look for versions that are at least 90% lean. Typical versions are 90% lean, 93% lean, and 95% lean for beef and turkey.
  5. Try mashed avocado in place of butter on toast.
  6. Buy skim or 1% milk instead of whole or 2%.
  7. Choose tomato sauce or use a small amount of olive oil and herbs on your pasta instead of alfredo or other cream sauces.
  8. Replace the croutons on your salad with walnuts (high in unsaturated fats); just be careful to use a small amount, like a teaspoon or tablespoon, as you don’t want to add too many calories.
  9. Consider substituting fat free Greek yogurt for sour cream. They taste very similar and you’ll get the extra benefit of protein from the Greek yogurt.
  10. Most research now says that eating eggs regularly is OK for your cholesterol. The exception may be for people with diabetes. So check with you doctor about eggs. If you want to try them, egg substitutes are real eggs, just without the yolk (which contains most of the fat). Try them in recipes and when making scrambled eggs. 2 egg whites or 1/2 cup = 1 egg. If baked goods end up too hard, whip the egg whites before adding them.
  11. Choose reduced fat versions of your favorite cheeses. Or choose cheeses with a stronger flavor, like fresh parmesan and blue, and use less of them.

As you can see, you don’t have to take foods out of your diet to be healthy. Being healthy just requires knowing what foods should be eaten in moderation and how to prepare foods in healthy ways. Don’t forget the physical activity side of things too! Exercise is helpful for maintaining healthy cholesterol.  And see your doctor regularly. He/she is the best person to assess your risk for heart disease and stroke, taking into consideration your cholesterol, family history, and other risk factors.

Original feature written by Connie Crawley (retired Extension Nutrition and Health Specialist).

Reviewed by Alison C. Berg, PhD, RDN, LD, Assistant Professor and Extension Nutrition and Health Specialist for the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia.