A doctor may prescribe medication to someone with high cholesterol and recommend a specific diet plan. A change in diet may involve eating more nutritious foods and avoiding foods high in cholesterol.

The body naturally produces the cholesterol it needs to function optimally. Having too much cholesterol can cause problems as it builds up in the arteries and can lead to heart disease and other health conditions.

A diet plan for a person with high cholesterol will typically involve eating plenty of fiber-rich foods, including vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains, while limiting foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

This article examines how diet can affect cholesterol and what diet plan can help a person with high cholesterol.

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There are five major lipoproteins in the blood, but healthcare professionals usually refer to two forms of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

Having high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol can increase a person’s risk of atherosclerosis, which is the accumulation of fatty deposits along artery walls. This can increase the risk of heart disease.

However, consuming foods that help the body produce more HDL — also known as “good” cholesterol — can help reduce the amount of LDL in the blood.

Eating a healthy diet is one way for people to manage high cholesterol. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommend:

  • replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats
  • consuming as little dietary cholesterol as possible
  • eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, poultry, whole grains, beans, fish, and nuts
  • limiting their intake of sugar, sweetened drinks, and red meat

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommends the DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) for people with or at risk of heart disease. This eating plan emphasizes whole foods while limiting sodium, saturated fat, red meat, and sugar.

It can help people:

The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends focusing on an overall healthy diet rather than simply counting dietary cholesterol. It points to DASH and the Mediterranean diet as examples of nutritious diets low in cholesterol and saturated fats.

The 2019 recommendation from the AHA outlines a diet consisting of the following foods to lower cholesterol levels:

The AHA also recommends limiting the following foods to help control cholesterol:

  • egg yolks
  • shellfish
  • foods high in saturated fats, including red meat

However, limiting foods does not mean a person can never have them. For example, someone with high cholesterol may want to eat fewer eggs or add high fiber foods such as vegetables or fruits to an egg-based breakfast.

People aiming to manage their cholesterol may want to consider the following eating and cooking tips:

  • opting for plant-based protein sources when possible, such as tofu or tempeh
  • cooking using vegetable oils, such as olive oil, instead of butter
  • limiting intake of egg yolks and shellfish
  • using whole foods when possible and avoiding ultra-processed products
  • swapping red meat for fish
  • choosing lean cuts of meat over fatty ones and trimming excess fat
  • eating more plant-based meals and using more plant-based protein sources such as beans
  • steaming, roasting, or air frying vegetables with a small amount of vegetable oil
  • cooking with healthy vegetable oils such as olive and avocado oil

The AHA also recommends looking for the “heart-check” symbol when shopping at a grocery store. This mark means products fit within the association’s recommendations for healthy eating.

People with high cholesterol should consult with a dietitian if they are unsure how to start incorporating healthier foods into their diet. Dietitians can provide guidance and tips on how to make healthy diet swaps.

Regular contact with a doctor is also helpful when reducing cholesterol levels. They can order blood tests to check a person’s progress and if dietary changes are having an impact.

While dietary changes may be the first step in controlling cholesterol levels, a doctor may recommend medications, such as statins, if there is no change.

Learn more about ways to lower cholesterol.

High cholesterol can increase a person’s risk for heart disease. If a blood test reveals that someone has high cholesterol, a specific diet plan may be the first treatment a doctor recommends.

Current dietary recommendations focus on eating a healthy diet high in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.