Diets to Help You Lower Your Cholesterol and Lose Weight

If you have hypercholesterolemia or high cholesterol and are considering choosing the best diet to lose weight and control your condition, you are certainly not alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that: 94 million adults in the United States over 20 have borderline high or high cholesterol. Cholesterol can build up in your arteries, constrict or stop blood flow, and potentially cause a heart attack or stroke.

If you have high cholesterol, your health care team has probably recommended that you control your cholesterol with lifestyle changes. These include exercising more and changing your diet or losing weight if you are overweight or obese.

With so many popular weight loss diets, it can be difficult to choose from a large number of popular or widely publicized options. One of the most common pieces of advice is to choose the diet you can stick to, but there is a caveat. Some diet plans are likely to lower your cholesterol, while others can make it worse.

Let’s take a look at which food choices can help you lower your cholesterol and which can’t.

When choosing an eating plan, it is helpful to know which foods can help control weight and cholesterol. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following foods as the foundation of a heart-healthy diet:

  • foods low in saturated fat (lean, skinless cuts of meat, low-fat dairy products)
  • minimally processed, healthy fats such as those found in fish, avocado, seeds, and nuts
  • fruits and vegetables, with the exception of white potatoes
  • foods that are usually made from whole grains rather than refined ones, such as whole wheat bread and pasta
  • proteins, mainly from plants, and lean and unprocessed forms of meat
  • at least two meals a week fatty fish

Food to avoid

Foods that can raise your cholesterol and contribute to weight gain include:

  • red meat and fatty meat that has not been trimmed
  • full-fat dairy products, such as whole milk, cream, ice cream, butter, and cheese
  • baked goods made with saturated and trans fats such as donuts, cakes, and cookies
  • foods with the words “hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients panel
  • tropical oils, such as coconut, palm and palm kernel oil
  • solid fats such as shortening, stick margarine and lard
  • fried food
  • foods with a lot of salt
  • candy and sugar-sweetened drinks

It’s nice to have general recommendations, but many people prefer to have a clearer plan to follow.

If you’re one of those people, here are some of the best research-backed, heart-healthy diets. These diets also have higher than average adherence to treatment. That’s how likely you are to stick to it in the long run.

Mediterranean

The Mediterranean diet tops most lists and has the most Research supporting it. It contains:

  • lots of vegetables, beans and legumes
  • fish and seafood
  • a little red wine
  • fruit
  • nuts
  • whole grain
  • extra virgin olive oil

DASH

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet has been specially developed to stop high blood pressure. It is part of a plan that also includes exercises. But it has also been proven that lower cholesterol.

The recommendation is to eat a diet rich in:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • whole grain
  • low-fat dairy products

The DASH diet also calls for reducing total fat, especially saturated fat.

TLC

The National Health Institutes developed the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. It includes eating according to certain numerical guidelines and exercising for 30 minutes a day most days of the week. The main dietary recommendations are:

  • less than 7% of your daily calories from saturated fat
  • less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol per day
  • 25% to 35% of daily calories from total fat (including saturated fat calories)
  • 2 grams per day plant stanols or sterols
  • 10 to 25 grams of soluble fiber per day
  • only enough calories to achieve or maintain an average weight

Dean Ornish

The Dean Ornish diet is a low-fat, lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. This means that you do not eat meat from animals, but milk and egg products are allowed. In this case, it is possible for proteins and low-fat dairy products.

This diet emphasizes eating mostly plants in their natural form. Most proteins are obtained from vegetable sources, such as tofu, beans and tempeh. It also emphasizes whole grains and healthy fats and limits simple carbohydrates, especially sugar.

While not much new research is available, an older 2009 study found that the Ornish diet was effective in lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

flexitarian

The flexitarian diet has become increasingly popular over the years. It’s a popular choice for some people who have been trying to eat completely vegetarian or vegan, but may have found that eating plan too difficult to stick to, or wanted some animal foods in their diet.

A 2015 study found that people who occasionally strayed from a vegetarian or vegan diet had significantly lowered their cholesterol and lost weight. A 2017 review also found that a flexitarian diet improved metabolic health and blood pressure and reduced the risk of diabetes.

The flexitarian diet has no rigid rules, only lifestyle advice:

  • Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
  • Focus on proteins from plants rather than animals.
  • Be flexible and occasionally use meat and animal products.
  • Eat the least processed, most natural foods.
  • Limit added sugars and sweets.

vegan

The vegan diet has become one of the most hyped eating plans, followed by an ever-growing celebrity list. It calls for the elimination of all animal products. This can significantly lower cholesterol, as long as you adhere to:

  • whole grain
  • a lot of fruit
  • vegetables
  • nuts
  • seeds

A 2018 study concluded that in most countries, a vegan diet can significantly lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. The study also showed reductions in body mass index (BMI), waist size, blood sugar and blood pressure.

South Beach (maybe)

Some studies suggest that low-carb diets raise your LDL cholesterol levels. But the South Beach Diet claims to do the exact opposite. A older study found that the South Beach Diet reduced LDL and total cholesterol.

The South Beach Diet does not call for eliminating carbohydrates completely, but choosing carbohydrates with a low glycemic index. It’s a phased program that initially calls for cutting out carbs and then reintroducing them little by little.

The diet’s effect on your cholesterol levels depends on the types of proteins and fats you choose to eat. The South Beach meal plan reduces your intake of saturated fats, which should lower your LDL cholesterol.

Some diets stand out as risky for heart health. Some of these are based on a popular low-carb, high-protein diet. While they can be effective for weight loss, they do not support or recommend a high intake of foods known to raise cholesterol levels.

Some popular diets that recommend this approach can lead to weight loss but to higher cholesterol. According to the AHA, some have been associated with early death. It all depends on the types of fat and carbohydrates you consume.

Some diets that can contribute to higher cholesterol include:

keto

The ketogenic (keto) diet involves reducing your total carbohydrate intake to 20 to 50 grams per day. You get most of your nutrients from protein and fat to force your body to use ketones instead of glucose (a type of sugar) for fuel.

The keto diet can be safe and healthy for many people. But for others, it can make high cholesterol worse. This is especially true if you have familial hypercholesterolemia.

The keto diet can raise cholesterol especially if you get your calories from processed foods and saturated fats. These are present in fatty cuts of meat and whole milk, dairy and cheese.

Atkins

The Atkins diet involves eating all the protein and fat you want, as long as you avoid carbohydrate-rich foods. Because it creates a calorie deficit, it is effective for weight loss. But it also has the potential to contain very high levels of saturated fat and processed meats, such as hot dogs and bacon.

A small 2018 study found a 44% increase in LDL cholesterol over 3 weeks in young, healthy adults who followed the Atkins diet compared to those who continued their normal eating habits.

If you have high cholesterol or are at high risk of developing it, your doctor will first recommend lifestyle and dietary changes. Because there are so many popular diets, it can be difficult to choose the right one.

Several diets have stood the test of time when it comes to lowering cholesterol. These include the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, and the TLC diet. Plant-based diets such as vegan and vegetarian diets can also help lower cholesterol.

Diets to avoid include high-protein, low-carb diets. While these diets help many people lose weight, some of them call for unlimited consumption of foods that raise cholesterol, including red meat, fatty meats, and full-fat dairy products.

Choosing a diet that you can stick to is the key to long-term success, as long as it’s healthy for the heart. If you are not sure which diet to choose, talk to your healthcare team.

Diets to Help You Lower Your Cholesterol and Lose Weight

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