High Cholesterol: Effect of Food on Cholesterol

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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


Effect on your cholesterol level


  • 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 fiber (soluble)

  • Oats
  • Dried beans (legumes)
  • Peas
  • Barley
  • Citrus fruits
  • Apples
  • Proven to reduce total cholesterol and LDL

Dietary fiber (insoluble)

  • Whole wheat breads and cereals
  • Beets
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Does not affect cholesterol but promotes healthy bowel movement

Saturated fat

  • Fatty meats (beef, pork)
  • Poultry skin
  • Butterfat (in whole milk, cream, ice cream, cheese)
  • Tropical oils (coconut, palm)
  • Raises LDL
  • Little effect on HDL or triglycerides

Monounsaturated fat

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Avocados
  • Walnuts
  • Lowers LDL if substituted for saturated fat
  • Keeps HDL up

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
  • Lowers triglycerides

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


Other Works Consulted

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2005). Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC (NIH Publication No. 06-5235). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/chol_tlc.pdf.
  • Raymond JL, Couch SC (2012). Medical nutrition and therapy for cardiovascular disease. In LK Mahan et al., eds., Krause's Food and the Nutrition Care Process, 13th ed., pp. 742-781. St Louis: Saunders.
  • Sacks FM, et al. (2006). Soy protein, isoflavones, and cardiovascular health: An American Heart Association science advisory for professionals from the Nutrition Committee. Circulation, 113(7): 1034-1044. Also available online: http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/113/7/1034.


ByHealthwise Staff

Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine

Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine

Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine

Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine

Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator

Kathleen M. Fairfield, MD, MPH, DrPH - Internal Medicine

Current as ofDecember 6, 2017