Cholesterol is a waxy-like substance found in each cell of the body. Consuming too much cholesterol in the diet increases cardiovascular issues. Avoiding the intake of certain foods reduces the risks.

Cholesterol performs important functions, including:

However, high cholesterol in the blood may cause health issues, such as high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Implementing lifestyle changes and reducing the amount of cholesterol in the diet is important to decrease high cholesterol or maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

This article discusses what causes high cholesterol, foods to avoid, and some low cholesterol-containing foods and low cholesterol lunches.

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Cholesterol is attached to certain proteins as it transports throughout the body. The combination of the waxy-substance and proteins is called a lipoprotein.

There are different types of lipoproteins based on what is attached, but the two main types of cholesterol are:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): This is known as the “bad” cholesterol. It transports cholesterol from the liver to different parts of the body. LDL cholesterol may build up in the veins and arteries, narrowing them and restricting blood flow. Having high levels of LDL is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This is known as the “good” cholesterol. It transports cholesterol from the body back to the liver to process and eliminate it. Having high levels of HDL is thought to be cardioprotective.

Genetic factors can lead to high blood cholesterol levels. This means that some individuals will produce excessive amounts of cholesterol — particularly LDL cholesterol — leading to high levels of blood cholesterol. This is called genetic or familial hypercholesterolemia.

Certain lifestyle factors can influence cholesterol levels. For example, eating foods that contain high amounts of cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat have all been shown to increase blood cholesterol levels.

These can be found in the following foods:

  • Processed carbohydrates: These includ white bread and white pasta.
  • Saturated fat: This includes red meat, full-fat dairy products, and processed foods.
  • Trans fat: These include fried and highly processed foods, such as cookies, crackers, and doughnuts.

Other lifestyle factors that can contribute to high cholesterol include smoking tobacco products and inactivity.

Some medical conditions may also cause high cholesterol, including:

Individuals who want to reduce their blood cholesterol levels can make some lifestyle changes to accomplish this.

These strategies include:

  • exercising regularly
  • avoiding tobacco — smoking is associated with adverse lipoprotein profiles
  • reducing the consumption of foods high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat
  • maintaining a moderate body mass index
  • eating enough fiber, particularly soluble fiber

Increasing the consumption of soluble fiber can decrease cholesterol levels. This is because soluble fiber turns into a gel and attaches to cholesterol in the small intestine. This gel helps push it through the digestive system for the body to dispose of through feces.

Foods that contain high amounts of soluble fiber include:

  • legumes, peas, and beans
  • fruit
  • oatmeal
  • barley
  • vegetables
  • most root vegetables

Individuals with a family history of high cholesterol levels should consult their doctor to determine if they are at risk of inheriting this condition. If so, they can work together to develop a strategy to minimize their risk.

Foods low in cholesterol are typically lower in fat. This means that plant-based foods and low-fat proteins are excellent low-cholesterol options.

Processed foods can also sometimes have cholesterol. People can check this by reading the nutrition label and paying attention to the serving size.

Examples of food groups that are low in cholesterol include:


  • black beans
  • kidney beans
  • garbanzo beans
  • navy beans
  • pinto beans
  • fava beans
  • lentils — red, black, and green


  • apples
  • bananas
  • strawberries
  • blueberries
  • raspberries
  • oranges
  • watermelon
  • cantaloupe
  • mango
  • pineapple


  • spinach
  • kale
  • eggplant
  • okra
  • sweet potato
  • potato
  • carrots
  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • cabbage


  • cashews
  • almonds
  • walnuts
  • pecans
  • hazelnuts
  • pistachios
  • macadamias
  • pine nuts

Whole grains, cereals, and pastas

  • oats and oatmeal
  • whole grain breads
  • whole grain crackers
  • noodles, especially whole grains or varieties made of lentils
  • cold cereals, especially whole grains or bran
  • bran products
  • rice


  • soybeans
  • tofu
  • soymilk
  • tempeh
  • miso

Fatty fish and meat

  • salmon
  • tuna
  • halibut
  • mahi-mahi
  • yellowtail
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • lean cuts of steak

Miscellaneous foods

  • onions
  • mushrooms
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • honey
  • mustard
  • ketchup
  • chia seeds

Reducing the consumption of foods that contain cholesterol can help decrease blood cholesterol levels.

Some examples of low cholesterol lunch ideas include:

  • veggie or turkey sandwich or wrap
  • vegetable soup or broth-based lentil soup
  • salads with low fat dressings or olive oil-based dressings
  • salmon with rice and roasted broccoli
  • tofu or ground turkey chili
  • pasta salad with roasted veggies and chicken
  • overnight oats with fruit and nuts
  • chicken or tofu vegetable stir fry with brown rice
  • Mediterranean quinoa with feta, cucumbers, red onions, and olives

Read on for a diet plan to help lower cholesterol.

Research has also explored the benefits of the traditional Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid lists eating foods in various quantities and frequencies:

  • dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes every day
  • fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, such as olive oil, whole grains, nuts with every main meal
  • at least 2 portions of fish or seafood every week
  • 2 portions of white meat and 2–4 portions of eggs every week
  • limiting red meat to no more than 2 portions per week and sweets to no more than 3 portions per week

The study demonstrated that this type of diet protects against cardiovascular disease and decreases LDL cholesterol levels.

Read more here for a Mediterranean meal plan.

Cholesterol is a natural substance found in the body which has many important functions. However, having high levels of cholesterol in the blood can be problematic as it raises the risk of cardiovascular disease.

There are many strategies that may help decrease or maintain a person’s cholesterol levels, including diet.

By incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and decreasing the consumption of foods containing cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat, individuals can help control their cholesterol levels.