A healthcare professional may ask a person to avoid eating before a cholesterol test. However, this is not always the case. Unless a healthcare professional says otherwise, a person can eat and drink normally the night before a cholesterol test.

A cholesterol test is a test that looks at the levels of cholesterol in a person’s blood.

This article will look at whether or not food consumption will affect the results of a cholesterol test and which foods to eat or avoid. It will also discuss how to prepare for a cholesterol test in general.

A healthcare professional performing a finger prick cholesterol test.Share on Pinterest
ljubaphoto/Getty Images

If a healthcare professional has asked a person to fast, they should not consume anything other than water the night before a cholesterol test.

Fasting means that a person can only consume water for the hours before their test.

If a person does not need to fast, they should be able to eat and drink normally.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), in the past, healthcare professionals have recommended that people fast for 9–12 hours before having a cholesterol test.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) explains that there are two ways to measure someone’s cholesterol.

One method is a finger prick test. In this, a person pricks their finger and places a drop of blood on a strip of paper. This strip of paper then goes into a machine that checks the cholesterol levels within minutes.

Another method involves taking blood from the arm. In this, a healthcare professional will draw blood from the arm and send the sample to a laboratory for the results. This method may require a person to fast.

However, a paper in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that for people aged 20 years and older who are not taking cholesterol lowering medications, there seems to be little difference between fasting blood tests and non-fasting blood tests in terms of their accuracy and ability to estimate cardiovascular risk.

The foods that people eat can affect the level of triglycerides in their blood. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood. According to the paper above, a fasting blood test may be necessary when the results of a non-fasting blood test indicate a triglyceride level of 400 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) or higher.

A person should discuss which type of test they will be having and whether or not they need to fast beforehand with a healthcare professional. Unless the healthcare professional requests otherwise, a person should be able to eat and drink normally before the test.

Learn more about fasting before a cholesterol test here.

Before a person has their cholesterol test, they should inform a healthcare professional about their family history of heart health and any symptoms or medical conditions they are currently experiencing.

The person should also let the healthcare professional know about any medications, vitamins, herbal remedies, or supplements that they are taking.

If the person is taking any medications that may affect their cholesterol levels, the healthcare professional may ask them to stop taking them for a period of time before their test.

The person should only stop taking their medication if the healthcare professional asks them to and while under medical supervision.

A cholesterol blood test will measure the amount of each of the following in a person’s blood:

  • Total cholesterol: This is the sum of the cholesterol content in the blood.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: This is the type of cholesterol that contributes to the buildup of fats within the arteries, leading to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: Having a healthy level of HDL cholesterol can help protect a person from experiencing a stroke or heart attack. It carries the LDL back to the liver, which can break it down and help remove it from the body.
  • Triglycerides: These store excess energy from a person’s diet and can contribute to the buildup in a person’s arteries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the ideal levels of each type are as follows:

  • Total cholesterol: Levels under 200 mg/dl are optimal.
  • HDL cholesterol: Levels greater than or equal to 60 mg/dl are optimal.
  • LDL cholesterol: Levels under 100 mg/dl are optimal.
  • Triglycerides: Levels under 150 mg/dl are optimal.

If a person’s blood test results show that their levels do not fall within acceptable ranges, they may need to make certain lifestyle changes, such as dietary and exercise-related changes, to improve these levels.

The foods a person consumes can affect their cholesterol levels over time.

Some foods can help reduce cholesterol. For example, soluble fiber can bind with cholesterol in the digestive system and remove it from the body. Additionally, polyunsaturated fats can help lower LDL levels.

According to Harvard Health, a person should aim to include the following in their diet:

  • barley
  • oats
  • okra
  • eggplant
  • nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, and walnuts
  • beans, such as kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and black-eyed peas
  • lentils
  • fruits, such as apples, citrus fruits, and strawberries
  • soy

Learn more about 15 foods that lower cholesterol here.

Foods to avoid

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that diets containing too much saturated fat and trans fat are the leading causes of high blood cholesterol.

People should aim to avoid foods that are high in saturated and trans fats. These include but are not limited to:

  • deep-fried foods
  • full fat dairy products, such as cream
  • animal fats, including butter, lard, and margarine
  • fatty meats

In some cases, a person may need to fast the night before a cholesterol test. However, this is not always the case. A person should speak with a healthcare professional about whether or not they should fast before their test.

If fasting is not necessary, the person should be able to eat and drink normally before their test.

The CDC recommends that most adults get their cholesterol levels checked every 4–6 years. People with heart disease or diabetes should have their cholesterol levels checked more frequently.