High Cholesterol: Effect of Food on Cholesterol - Topic Overview

Food can affect the amounts of cholesterol in your blood. Some foods raise cholesterol. Other foods help lower cholesterol.

The table below lists different foods and drinks and how they affect your total cholesterol level, your HDL ("good") cholesterol, and your LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

Effects of different foods and drinks on your cholesterol

Dietary element

Examples

Effect on your cholesterol level

Alcohol

  • Red wine
  • White wine
  • Beer
  • Hard liquor
  • Moderate consumption (up to 1 drink a day for a woman; 1 or 2 a day for a man) may raise your HDL. But doctors don't recommend starting to drink alcohol to raise your HDL.
  • More than 2 drinks a day may raise triglyceride levels in people who are overweight or who have high triglyceride levels.
  • Heavy drinking greatly increases risk of heart and liver damage, addiction, and other serious health problems.
Dietary cholesterol
  • Egg yolks
  • Poultry, especially skin
  • Red meat, especially organ meats
  • Dairy products that are not low-fat (1%) or nonfat
  • Shellfish
  • Raises total blood cholesterol
Dietary fiber (soluble)
  • Oats
  • Dried beans (legumes)
  • Peas
  • Barley
  • Citrus fruits
  • Apples

Dietary fiber (insoluble)

  • Whole wheat breads and cereals
  • Beets
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Turnips
Saturated fat
  • Fatty meats (beef, pork)
  • Poultry skin
  • Butterfat (in whole milk, cream, ice cream, cheese)
  • Tropical oils (coconut, palm)
Monounsaturated fat
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Avocados
  • Walnuts
Polyunsaturated fat
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Corn oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Linoleic acid, found in these oils, can lower LDL if used in moderation.
Omega-3 fats
  • All fish, especially fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel
  • Plant sources, such as walnuts, canola, and flaxseed oils
Trans fats
  • Hydrogenated fats, found in some margarines, vegetable shortenings, nondairy creamers, and whipped toppings
  • Snack foods (potato chips, cookies, cakes)
  • Peanut butter that contains hydrogenated fat (except all-natural varieties)
  • Raises LDL
  • Little effect on HDL but at high levels can lower HDL

Soy protein

  • Soybeans
  • Soy products such as tofu
  • Lowers LDL by a small amount
  • No effect on HDL

Plant stanols and sterols

  • Specially labeled margarine
  • Lowers LDL
  • No effect on HDL
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.