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What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is made by your liver, and it is also in some of the foods you eat. Your body needs a small amount of cholesterol to help it work properly. But having a high level of cholesterol in your blood can cause problems. High cholesterol and another type of fat called triglycerides can lead to heart disease and stroke.

What is "good" and "bad" cholesterol?

Cholesterol moves through your body in little packets of fat called lipoprotein particles. The two main kinds of lipoprotein particles are low-density (LDL) and high-density (HDL). LDL cholesterol is the bad kind that blocks your arteries. HDL cholesterol is the good kind, and it helps keep LDL levels low.

What should my cholesterol numbers be?

  • Cholesterol: Lower than 200
  • HDL (good cholesterol): Higher than 40
  • LDL (bad cholesterol): Lower than 100
  • Triglycerides: Lower than 150

How can I improve my cholesterol numbers?

Regular exercise can lower your bad cholesterol levels and raise your good cholesterol levels. You should try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes each day. Another good way to lower your cholesterol is by eating certain foods and avoiding others.

Eating tips to lower your cholesterol

  • Limit saturated fats and trans fats. These fats are found in butter, margarine, partially hydrogenated oils, and shortening.
  • Limit the amount of cholesterol you eat to 200 mg/day
  • Try to eat 20–30 grams of fiber a day. Fiber is found in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Some examples of whole grains are 100 percent whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, and brown rice.
  • Add Omega-3s to your diet. Omega-3s are found in canola oil, ground flaxseed, and fish, such as salmon or tuna.
  • Eat more plant-based foods rather than animal-based foods. Protein found in beans and nuts will help keep cholesterol levels in check.
  • Fat should make up only 25–35 percent of the food you eat each day.
  • Limit how much sodium you eat to 2400 mg/day. Salt is mostly sodium, and it is used in a lot of processed foods. Be sure to check labels to see how much sodium is in your food. Avoid adding salt.
Food group
Good foods to eat
Foods to avoid
Data 1 Data 2 Data 3
Protein Lean meats such as:
Lean cuts of beef
And other foods, like:
Egg whites, egg substitutes
Nuts and beans
High-fat cuts of beef and pork
Poultry skins
Fried meats
Egg yolks
Grains Bread, cereal, and pasta made from whole grains
Brown rice
White breads, processed cereals, and pasta
White rice
Fried or high-fat baked goods
Vegetables Frozen, fresh, or low-sodium canned vegetables Fried vegetables
Vegetables with added fat such as butter, cream, or gravy
Fruits Frozen, fresh, canned, or dried Fried fruits
Fruits with added fat
Fats Omega 3s (Coldwater fish, ground flaxseed)
Unsaturated fat (olive oil, canola oil)
Low-fat salad dressing
Vegetable oil spreads
Saturated fat
Trans fat
Dairy Skim or 1% milk
Low-fat cheese
Light yogurt
Whole or 2% milk
Whole fat cheese or yogurt
Sour cream


  • American Dietetic Association. Nutrition Care Manual. High Cholesterol Nutrition Therapy.
    Accessed September 22, 2008.
  • American Heart Association. About Cholesterol.
    Accessed September 22, 2008.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

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