How Can I Improve My Cholesterol?

Updated:Dec 7,2015
There are several lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your cholesterol. You can eat healthy foods, reach and maintain a healthy weight and be physically active. Some people also need to take medicine to lower their cholesterol because changing their lifestyle and diet isn't enough. Your healthcare providers will help you set up a plan for improving your cholesterol — and keeping yourself healthy!

Most heart and blood vessel disease is caused by a buildup of cholesterol, plaque and other fatty deposits in a artery walls. The arteries that feed the heart can become so clogged that the blood flow is reduced, causing chest pain. If a blood clot forms and blacks the artery, a heart attack can occur. Similarly, if a blood clot blocks an artery leading to or in the brain, a stroke results.

What should I eat?

Focus on eating foods low in saturated and trans fats, such as:
  • A variety of fruits and vegetables
  • A variety of whole grain foods like whole grain bread, cereal, pasta and brown rice. (At least half of the servings should be whole grains.)
  • Fat-free, 1 percent and low-fat milk products
  • Poultry without skin and lean meats. When you choose to eat red meat and pork, select options labeled “loin” and “round.” These cuts usually have the least amount of fat.
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, albacore tuna and sardines. (Enjoy at least two servings baked or grilled each week.)
  • Unsalted nuts, seeds, and legumes (dried beans or peas)
  • Nontropical vegetable oils like canola, corn, olive or safflower oils.
What should I limit?
  • Foods with a lot of sodium (salt)
  • Sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Red meats and fatty meats that aren't trimmed
  • Meats that have been processed with a lot of sodium
  • Full-fat dairy products such as whole milk, cream, ice cream, butter and cheese
  • Baked goods made with saturated and trans fats like donuts, cakes and cookies
  • Avoid foods that list the words "hydrogenated oils" in the ingredients panel
  • Saturated oils like coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil
  • Solid fats like shortening, stick margarine and lard
  • Fried foods
What are some cooking tips for me?

  • Add a variety of fruits and vegetables to your meals.
  • Use a rack to drain off fat when you broil, roast or bake poultry and meats.
  • Look for leaner cuts if you choose to eat meat.
  • Don’t baste with drippings; use wine, fruit juice or marinade.
  • Broil or grill instead of pan-frying.
  • Cut off all visible fat from meat before cooking, and take all the skin off poultry pieces.
  • Use a vegetable oil spray to brown or sauté foods.
  • Serve smaller portions of higher-calorie dishes.
  • Use low-fat, low-sodium options instead of regular cheese.
How can I learn more?
  1. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit heart.org to learn more about heart disease and stroke.
  2. Sign up to get Heart Insight, a free magazine for heart patients and their families, at heartinsight.org.
  3. Connect with others sharing similar journeys with heart disease and stroke by joining our Support Network at heart.org/supportnetwork.
We have many other fact sheets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit heart.org/answersbyheart to learn more.

Do you have questions or comments for your doctor or nurse?

Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:

What about eating out?

Why are weight control and physical activity important?

©2015, American Heart Association

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

Heart-related Conditions
What is Angina?
What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
How Can I Improve My Cholesterol?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
Stroke, TIA and Warning Signs
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Stroke Risk Factors
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Complications After Stroke
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Aphasia
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

Treatment, Tests and Procedures
What is Cholesterol-Lowering Medicine?
What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
How Do I Manage My Medicines?
What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?
What Is a Pacemaker?
What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
What is a Stent?
What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery?
What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

Healthy Lifestyle and Risk Reduction
How Can I Manage My Weight?
How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
How Can I Cook Healthfully?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Understand "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?