Optimal Cholesterol Levels

Optimal amounts of cholesterol (in one dL of the blood) are:

  • Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg
  • LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg
  • HDL cholesterol: more than 60 mg 

Foods to Avoid or Limit to Lower Cholesterol

To reduce high blood cholesterol, limit the intake of:

  • Cholesterol:
    • Red meat
    • Whole milk products: milk, cheese, cream, butter, ghee (Indian butter), ice cream
    • Egg yolk.
    • NOTE: if your LDL cholesterol is above 100mg/dL, take less than 200 mg cholesterol per day. Plant foods do not contain cholesterol, so any commercial plant food (especially oil) advertised as “low cholesterol” has no additional benefit.
  • Saturated fats:
    • Red meat
    • Whole milk products
    • Egg yolk
    • Coconut, including butter and oil
    • Palm oil, palm kernel oil 
  • Trans fats or hydrogenated oils (2):
    • Vegetable shortenings
    • Hard margarines (the softer a margarine is, less trans fats it has)
    • French fries, commercially baked cookies, donuts, biscuits, cakes 
    • NOTE: amounts of saturated and trans fats are listed on nutritional labels.
  • Total amount of fats. Limit calories from fats to 25-35% of your total calorie intake.

Recommended Foods for Vegetarians With High Cholesterol Levels

The following foods are recommended instead of foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats:

  • Monounsaturated fats: olive oil (extra virgin, if possible)
  • Polyunsaturated fats
    • Vegetable oils: safflower, sunflower, corn, soy or cottonseed oil
    • Nuts (except coconut), (3) and seeds. Nuts can contain as much as 80% of fats, so it is not recommended to eat more than a handful of nuts per day
    • Omega-3 fatty acids: canola oil, ground flaxseed, walnuts (4).
  • Margarine or orange juice fortified by plant sterols and stanols (5) reduce absorption of cholesterol from the intestine. About one cup (200 mL) of fortified orange juice per day would be neded for cholesterol lowering effect. These fortified foods are not appropriate for children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
  • Soluble fiber:
    • Oat bran in oatmeal and whole oats
    • Kidney and lima beans
    • Other foods high in soluble fiber
    • NOTE: foods high in soluble fiber should be taken with sufficient amount of water to prevent constipation.     

Other Points to Remember

  1. Discuss with a registered dietitian which foods are appropriate for you.
  2. Losing weight, if you are overweight, can reduce cholesterol levels.
  3. If you are constipated, try to avoid liquid oils, which can cover the intestinal walls and slow down digestion. Try nuts or nut butter as a source of healthy fats instead. Be aware that milk and cheese can also cause or aggravate constipation. Check foods that relieve constipation.
  4. If you are bloated or have excessive gas, try to limit or avoid foods that can cause bloating:
  5. Chose foods you like and are good for your stomach. 

References:

  1. Optimal blood cholesterol levels  (nhlbi.nih.gov)
  2. Foods high in trans fats  (fda.gov)
  3. Nuts and polyunsaturated fatty acids  (mayoclinic.com)
  4. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids  (tufts.edu)
  5. Plant sterols and stanols  (mayoclinic.com)

Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on November 8, 2011