Diet to Lower Cholesterol

A Diet to Lower Cholesterol: Simple Guidelines for Eating Well

If you and I were sitting in my office talking about how to begin a diet to lower cholesterol naturally, I would want you to know two foundations of my holistic medicine practice first.

• One: everything I will suggest to you is valid science, no flim-flam here, no latest and greatest pill to sell you which will reduce both your cholesterol and your wallet to zero.

• Two: everything I will suggest to you is simple and achievable. You can build a diet to lower cholesterol without looking up the instruction book every day. No math or calculations, no long lists to memorize.

And just as important, these are diet suggestions which are good for your whole life. This is not a quick fix to be used for a year then discarded. Eating a diet to lower cholesterol becomes a way of life, and when sustained over a lifetime dramatically improves quality of life and length of life.

So here are my simple principles:

• Decrease the amount of saturated fat in the diet, and enjoy healthy fats in their place. Saturated fats are found mostly in meat and dairy, and also in coconut, palm and palm kernel oils. Practically, this means using non-fat (skim) milk and dairy products (e.g yogurt), and severely limiting saturated dairy products like cheese, butter and ice cream. Choose lean meats with the lowest saturated fat content, such as white meat chicken or turkey (skin off), and decreasing the amount of grain-fed beef consumed. Grass-fed beef or bison is usually a better choice, as are game meats such as venison; one can find the saturated fat content on the label at the meat counter: compare and shop wisely. Keep trans-fat intake as close to zero as possible by reading food labels and avoiding products which contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Enjoy mono-unsaturated oils for cooking and dressings, such as extra-virgin olive oil and organic cold-pressed canola oil. Eat a handful of nuts daily (e.g. walnuts or almonds, if you are not allergic) for their omega-3 oil content. Nuts are also a filling snack that will take the place of sugary high calorie snacks which don’t satisfy for long. Aim for 2 servings of fish per week, preferably oily cold-water fish with high omega-3 oil content, such as wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, or Atlantic mackerel. Eggs in moderation are fine, especially from hens fed high omega-3 diets.


• Make foods with fiber a cholesterol lowering habit. Foods that lower cholesterol include your old friend oatmeal! Use rolled oats or steel cut oats instead of instant. Beyond oats, the simplest way to do this is to substitute legumes (beans) for meat or animal protein 4 meals per week. This step alone has the potential to reduce your risk of heart disease by over 20%, because legumes are one of the foods that lower LDL cholesterol the best. This could include soy products such as edamame or tofu, lentils (the fast food of legumes), or any kind of beans and rice (black beans, red beans, pinto or navy beans, etc.). Break out of old habits and be creative. When I did medical mission work in Nicaragua, we enjoyed beans and rice for breakfast… do something like that to shake up old habits and see how much fun you can have with a healthy diet to lower cholesterol!


• Kick the sugar habit, especially reducing high-fructose corn syrup. When we eat sugar that our body cannot immediately burn as fuel, the emergency blood sugar reducing action starts in the liver, transforming that sugar into fat. The first place that shows up is a high triglyceride level in the blood, which by itself is a risk for heart attack. And as triglyceride levels go up from eating too much sugar, the good HDL cholesterol levels drop too low to protect you. High fructose corn syrup is even more likely than other types of sugar to be transformed into triglycerides and fat; I recommend you severely limit or avoid it altogether.

Does this mean you can never have a steak or eat ice-cream again? No, of course not. It’s what you eat most of the time that counts most. So if your LDL cholesterol is high, and you have been eating lots of saturated fat and sugar and little fiber, following my guidelines for a diet to lower cholesterol perhaps 4 days out of 5 will make a big difference. But if you have already been eating in a healthy way and your cholesterol level is still unhealthy, you may simply be fighting your genetic makeup, in which case diet will not do much more for you than where you already are. Then we would start talking about supplements, also as natural as possible.

Finally, I hope this short introduction is only the beginning of your learning for life! Eating well can be, and always should be enjoyable and interesting, so thanks for joining me as we explore how to use food as medicine.

Robert Pendergrast, MD

Go ahead, and check out these recipes to lower cholesterol Read more about how to supplement to lower cholesterol

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