Eating to Control Cholesterol Levels: Everyday Diet Strategies to Lower LDL

About one in two American adults has borderline or high cholesterol levels, which increase ones risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease. Statins, medications that lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, are now among the most prescribed drugs in the country (and the world). But medication is only part of the solution: To keep cholesterol under control, maintaining a healthy weight and diet is just as important as taking a daily pill.

The guidelines for treating high cholesterol from the National Cholesterol Education Program recommend that patients try to lower their cholesterol through Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC), which include exercise and a healthy diet, before starting a statin.Lowering your cholesterol through eating habits and exercise means you can avoid the risk of side effects from medication entirely. Indeed, the only side effects of TLC you'll encounter are more energy, weight loss, and better overall health.

To help decrease your cholesterol without a statin—or to supplement the statin youre already taking—follow these guidelines from the TLC diet.

Reduce saturated fat to no more than 7% of total calories, and cholesterol to no more than 200 milligrams per day 
Saturated fat is likely to raise blood cholesterol more than any other food in your diet (except for, perhaps, trans fats, which are slowly being phased out of many foods). A goal of just 7% of total calories is no more than 16 grams per day for most people. To stay within these boundaries, eat more of a plant-based diet with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and limit red meat, full-fat dairy products, baked goods, and fried foods.

Read labels and try to track your daily saturated fat grams until you get an idea of how much your typical food choices contain; don't rely solely on the Percent Daily Values listed, since they're based on the diet of someone who doesn't have high cholesterol and thus can eat slightly more saturated fat. An added bonus: Lowering your saturated fat intake means youll help lower cholesterol intake as well, since saturated fat and cholesterol tend to be found together.