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couple joggingHelp keep your heart healthy by managing your cholesterol levels. You may also lower your chances of getting heart disease or having a stroke. Specific dietary patterns and nutrient intake can play a major role in cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment through effects on modifiable risk factors such as cholesterol levels.

The American Heart Association recommends that all adults age 20 or older have their cholesterol and other traditional risk factors checked every four to six years, and work with their healthcare providers to determine their risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Comparing Your Cholesterol Numbers

Total cholesterol is a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

  • LDL (bad) cholesterol: the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries
  • HDL (good) cholesterol: HDL helps remove "bad" LDL cholesterol from your arteries
  • Triglycerides: another form of fat in your blood that can raise your risk for heart disease

Total Cholesterol Level

  • Less than 200mg/dL: Desirable
  • 200-239 mg/dL: Borderline High
  • 240mg/dL and above: High

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol Level

  • Less than 100mg/dL: Optimal
  • 100-129mg/dL: Near optimal/above optimal
  • 130-159 mg/dL: Borderline high
  • 160-189 mg/dL: High
  • 190 mg/dL and above: Very High

HDL (Good) Cholesterol Level

  • Less than 40 mg/dL: A major risk factor for heart disease
  • 40–59 mg/dL: The higher, the better
  • 60 mg/dL and higher: Considered protective against heart disease

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Nutrition Strategies to Help Maintain and Lower Cholesterol Levels

Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and rich in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain some types of dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, may reduce the risk of heart disease, a disease associated with many factors.

Source: Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide (11. Appendix C: Health Claims) FDA (21 CFR 101.77)

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin. For example, look for beef or pork cuts that contain "round" or "loin" in the name such as ground round or tenderloin. For chicken, turkey, and other poultry, white meat is the best choice. Remove the skin before eating. Also, choose cooking methods such as grilling, braising, broiling, or roasting rather than frying.
  • Make substitutions with dairy products including fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt. For example, use fat-free Greek yogurt as a substitution for sour cream in dips and dressings.
  • Using At Season's Peak grapes, honeydews, and cantaloupes, make a fresh fruit salad for a snack or delicious after-dinner dessert.
  • Add fruit to your salad, such as pears or apples, with low-fat feta cheese and walnuts.
  • Bake sweet potato fries by cutting them up into slices and seasoning with olive oil, cayenne pepper, and a dash of salt.
  • Microwave or bake spaghetti squash by cutting in half lengthwise and putting face down in a dish with water. Scoop out squash and serve like spaghetti with marinara sauce.
  • Stir-fry zucchini, yellow squash, diced tomatoes, and mushrooms with olive oil and herbs. Serve over brown rice.
  • Substitute half the white flour with whole-wheat flour in your regular recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads, and pancakes.
  • Add three-quarters of a cup of uncooked oats for each pound of ground beef or turkey when you make meatballs, burgers, or meatloaf.
  • Make risottos, pilafs, and other rice-like dishes with whole grains such as barley, brown rice, bulgur, or quinoa.
  • Look for cereals made with grains like khorasan, kasha (buckwheat), or spelt.

There are two main types of fiber—insoluble and soluble (also called "viscous"). Both have health benefits but only soluble fiber may reduce the risk of heart disease. It does so by helping to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol (e.g. oatmeal contains 50% soluble and 50% insoluble fiber).

Soluble fiber from foods such as oatmeal, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of oatmeal supplies 3–4 grams of the necessary 3 grams of soluble fiber from whole oats.

  • Choose hot or cold breakfast cereals, such as oatmeal and oat bran, that have 3–4 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Add a banana, peach, apple, berries, or other fruit to your cereal.
  • Eat the whole fruit instead of, or in addition to, drinking its juice—one orange has six times more fiber than one 4-ounce glass of orange juice.
  • Add black, kidney, white, pinto, other beans, or lentils to salads.

Source: Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide (11. Appendix C: Health Claims) (21 CFR 101.81)


Total Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes