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How food can help lower cholesterol

According to the American Heart Association, you should keep an eye on your cholesterol to make sure it’s at healthy levels. High cholesterol leads to a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart disease and stroke.

couple hiking in the hillsWhat is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a wax-like substance that your body needs to help build cells, make vitamins and other hormones.

There are two types of cholesterol:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: LDL cholesterol, sometimes called bad cholesterol, should be at a lower level. High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: HDL cholesterol, sometimes called good cholesterol, should be at a higher level. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.

When you have high cholesterol, plaque can build up in your arteries. Over time, plaque buildup can cause your arteries to narrow, making it harder for blood to flow through your body. This can lead to health problems, such as a stroke, blood clots or heart disease.

What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a fat in your blood that your body uses for energy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that high levels of triglycerides combined with low HDL and/or high HDL levels can lead to a higher risk of heart attack or stroke. Eating healthy foods and quitting smoking can help lower triglycerides.

Healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels

There are no symptoms of high cholesterol, so the only way to know your cholesterol levels is to have your doctor order a blood test. This chart shows what healthy and high cholesterol looks like.

Range Total LDL (bad) HDL (good) Triglycerides
Healthy Level Less than 200 Less than 100 50 or more Less than 150
Borderline-High 200 to 239 130 to 159 40 to 50 for men
50 to 60 for women
150 to 199
High Risk 240 or more 160 to 189 Less than 40 for men
Less than 50 for women
200 to 499
Very High 190 or more 500 or more

Cholesterol-lowering food tips

A heart-healthy diet is a great way to lower your cholesterol and prevent high cholesterol. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics gives these nutrition tips to help lower cholesterol levels.

Eat foods with plant sterols and stanols

Include more foods in your diet with plant sterols and stanols, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and vegetable oils. These foods can help lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. Some foods, such as orange juice and certain cereals, are fortified with plant sterols and stanols.

Limit saturated fat

Eating too much saturated fat can raise your LDL cholesterol level. You can find saturated fats in animal products, such as fatty meats and dairy products. Swap saturated fats with unsaturated fats, which can help lower total cholesterol and LDL levels. You can find unsaturated fats in foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. In addition to limiting saturated fat, avoid trans fats, which may also raise LDL levels.

Eat omega-3s

Foods rich in omega-3s, including salmon and other fatty fish, chia seeds, walnuts and flax seeds, can help lower triglyceride levels. Foods high in omega-3s may also lower HDL cholesterol.

Choose leaner proteins

Limit fatty, marbled meats and fried foods, which are high in saturated fat. Eat more lean proteins, such as chicken, turkey, fish and plant-based proteins like nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, quinoa and soy products.

Eat more fiber

Dietary fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils and whole grains.

There are two types of fiber:

  • Soluble fiber: This fiber dissolves in water and can help lower LDL cholesterol. You can find soluble fiber in oats, peas, beans, apples and citrus fruits.
  • Insoluble fiber: This fiber helps food move through your digestive system. Insoluble fiber is in foods like whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, beans and vegetables.

Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains is a great way to get more fiber into your diet. Make sure to drink more water as you include more fiber in your diet, as fiber will absorb excess water.

Don’t have a doctor?

You can use our Find Care tool to search for a doctor. Log in to your account at or log in to the Blue Cross of Idaho member app and select Find Care. From there you can filter your search by location, specialty and more.

Download the Blue Cross of Idaho member app in the App Store or Google Play.


Posted: September 13, 2023