You're taking a new look at food, with a goal of bringing down your LDL ("bad") cholesterol level. One thing that may make it easier is to have a plan that sets you up for success, and which has research backing it up.
That's where these 10 diets come in. They can help you lower your cholesterol and lose extra weight and still enjoy food that tastes great.
1. Mediterranean Diet
You’ll eat what people in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea have relied on for centuries: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats, and olive oil.
The proof is in the pudding: Scientific research suggests it’s excellent for heart health.
Many doctors use this as a go-to diet for people with high cholesterol. “The fact that it's not a fad, it tastes good, it's flexible, and adaptable make it easier to share with patients and set them up for success,” says James Beckerman, MD, a cardiologist in Portland, OR.
2. TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes)
This three-part plan (diet, exercise, and weight control) can lower your LDL cholesterol by 20% to 30%.
There’s even room for pancakes, peanut butter, and ice cream, as long as you keep portions in check.
3. DASH Diet
Bonus: It works fast. In one study, people saw results in just 2 weeks.
You’ll eat foods like grains, fruits, and veggies, which give you fiber and other nutrients. And you'll get lean proteins like low-fat milk products, beans, and fish. You’ll cut way back on sodium, added sugar, sweets, and red meat.
4. Mayo Clinic Diet
This plan just might become your new way of life.
You'll choose high-fiber foods like oatmeal and oat bran, fish and other foods loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, nuts like walnuts and almonds, and olive oil, to help lower cholesterol.
Exercise and portion size are also big parts of this plan, which begins with a 2-week jump-start phase and keeps going forever.
5. Vegetarian or Vegan Diet
These plant-based diets could do a lot for your cholesterol, if you choose your foods wisely.
Vegetarians don't eat any meat. Vegans don't eat any animal products, including meat, eggs, dairy, or even honey.
Studies suggest vegetarians are less likely to get heart disease and high blood pressure. That’s because a diet with low or no animal products tends to be lower in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
But if you’re going vegetarian or vegan, you'll still need to check food labels and keep sweets and fatty foods to a minimum.
6. Flexitarian Diet
Like the idea of eating a mostly vegetarian diet, but with room for small portions of meat, fish, and poultry? That's called a "flexitarian" diet. It has many of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet but room for flexibility.
You'll fill about half your plate with fruits and vegetables. The other half will be a mix of whole grains and lean protein. Low-fat dairy products are also recommended, like milk, yogurt, and cheese.
7. The Engine 2 Diet
It's not a very flexible plan. You’ll enjoy lots of whole grains, veggies, fruits, legumes, tofu, and soy products, but no meat, dairy, or processed foods.
8. Biggest Loser Diet
You can lower your cholesterol while losing weight, lowering your blood pressure, getting stronger, and boosting your energy with this diet, which is based on the hit TV show.
Exercise is a must. And if you want results like the people on the TV show, going the extra mile is key.
9. Weight Watchers
This is a great plan for long-term health benefits, especially if you want to manage your weight. It’s a well-balanced diet that can help you feel full and satisfied, so it’s likely that you’ll stick to it.
“You don’t want to ‘diet’ your entire life, but rather choose meals that are consistent with healthy life choices,” says Paul B. Langevin, MD, of Philadelphia.
The plan works best if you choose meals that are high in protein and fiber, and eat fewer carbohydrates and fats, Langevin says.
10. Dean Ornish Diet
Ornish's plan comes in several levels. The strictest one is very low in fat and leaves out animal products.
In one small study, people who followed this ultra-low-fat diet lowered their cholesterol levels by more than 30%. President Bill Clinton said Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Diseaseinspired him to radically change his diet following emergency heart surgery.
Many people may find that tough to do. But Ornish also gives you other options that aren't as strict, depending on your health goals.
“Some fats are good and necessary,” says Langevin. He says fats like fish oils, polyunsaturated oils, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are off-limits on the strictest version of Ornish's plan, are good for you and necessary to keep your body functioning well.