10 Tips for Lowering Your Cholesterol

Get pointers on nutrition and exercise

Running shoes

We all want to be heart-healthy, and ensuring healthy levels of cholesterol — a fat, or lipid, carried through the bloodstream — is the first step.

Low-density lipoprotein or LDL (bad) cholesterol contributes to plaque buildup along with triglycerides, another lipid. High-density lipoprotein or HDL (good) cholesterol discourages plaque buildup. Plaque can threaten the blood supply to the heart, brain, legs or kidneys, leading to heart attack, stroke or even death.

The preventive cardiology team in Cleveland Clinic’s Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute is dedicated to making sure these medical emergencies never occur.

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Registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CCSD, LD, and exercise physiologist Michael Crawford, MS, cardiac rehabilitation supervisor, share 10 tips — five for lowering cholesterol through diet and five for making the most of exercise:

  • Chicken in fryer

    1. Cut back on animal fats

    Forgo fatty meats, like processed meats such as bologna, salami, pepperoni and hot dogs; and fatty red meats, such as ribs and prime cuts of beef, pork, veal or lamb. Also, skip skin on chicken or turkey. Avoid full-fat dairy products such as whole milk, cheese, cream, sour cream, cream cheese and butter. These foods contain saturated fat as well as cholesterol — both associated with higher blood cholesterol and plaque buildup.

  • Oats

    2. Make friends with fiber

    Specifically, get friendly with foods high in soluble fiber. In the gut, soluble fiber can bind to bile (which is made up of cholesterol) and remove it. Look for soluble fiber in oats, oat bran, ground flaxseed, psyllium,  barley, dried beans and legumes, fruits and root vegetables, as well as some whole-grain cereals.

  • Peas in pod

    3. Go veggie

    Choose at least one meatless meal per week. Substitute animal protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese) for plant based protein such as beans, lentils, tofu or quinoa. Try these plant based proteins in salad, soup, stir fry, or a burrito to decrease your saturated fat intake and increase your fiber intake. If you enjoy meatless meals, try to go meatless for one day per week!

  • Carbs4.Be mindful of carbs

    Research shows that following a low-carb eating plan can help you lose weight and reduce cardiovascular risk factors.  Choose high fiber carbohydrates like oatmeal, whole grain starches, beans, lentils, and fruit which will provide the energy you need, but also keep you feeling full.  The key is to watch your portions, aim for no more than about 1 cup of starch and/or fruit with meals.  Also, fill up on vegetables which are low in calories and high in fiber.

  • Man on scale

    5. Be a loser

    If you’re overweight or obese, shed the extra pounds. Weight loss helps lower bad (LDL) cholesterol. Even a small-to-moderate weight loss — just 10 to 20 pounds — can make an impact.

  • Swimmer

    6. Move more

    Work up to 90 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per day for optimum heart health and weight loss. Cardiovascular exercise means any activity that uses large muscles repetitively and increases the heart rate. Think walking, cycling, rowing, using the elliptical and swimming. If you find 90 minutes daunting, start with 30 minutes and work your way up a little at a time. For some people, 45 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise is enough.

  • Exercise class

    7. Pick the right tempo

    Aim for a moderate level of exercise. You’ll know you’ve reached it when you are able to carry on a conversation when you exercise, but can’t sing. Higher-intensity (more difficult) exercise is better at raising good (HDL) cholesterol. However, it also increases your risk of injuries, making it harder to continue exercising. Moderate intensity is preferable.

  • Reminder note

    8. Make a habit of it

    Consistency is the key. Work out regularly and you’ll watch your triglyceride levels drop. Triglycerides are the only lipid in the cholesterol profile used for energy. They decrease an average of 24 percent with regular cardiovascular exercise.

  • Martial artist9. Change it up

    Variety is the spice of life, so try different exercises to stay motivated, to challenge other muscle groups, to reduce the risk of overuse injuries and to enjoy your physical activity.

  • Runners sport band

    10. Get technical

    There are many great technology tools that can give you feedback on your exercise. Many Smartphone apps have exercise tracking, motivation techniques, calorie trackers and tips. Other devices such as heart rate monitors, pedometers and other biofeedback devices can help guide your exercise plan or help with motivation.

Note: If you have heart disease, check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. A cardiac rehab program is a great way to learn the right exercises for you and jump-start your diet and exercise program. If you experience chest pain, pressure, tightness, excessive shortness of breath, lightheadedness or palpitations, stop exercising and consult a doctor.

View our collection of Cholesterol 101 videos to learn more.

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For more information on Coronary Artery Disease, download our free treatment guide.

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  • sadiqa

    very useful to know the different healthy way of life

  • http://twitter.com/cfus89 Julian

    Informative article

  • YolandeJ

    Thanks for the tips.

  • http://www.facebook.com/123Anonymous123 Cyftxdhrxhfjxgghc Bijommoiuvyf

    They 4 got centrum cardio

  • jon johnson

    Well if you wanna have heart disease follow the steps above as Rx’d by this Dr. cause thats what youll get! Do some research and youll soon find out that the Drs you trust are really selling you is a heart condition to put money in there pockets not to mention “Big Pharma!”

    • The_Beating_Edge_Team

      Jon, the article above is written by the Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program’s cardiac rehabilitation supervisor and expercise physiologist and a registered dietitian. They are providing great tips for a heart healthy diet and how to make the most of your exercise program. betsyRN

      • jon johnson

        I believe most (3-8) of these are great tips other than taking out the animal fat and loading up on fiber. Taking out the grains that are “so called” heart healthy would be step # one, which is the culprit to Heart disease (there is much research to support this and absolutely NO Significant research to pinpoint that Sat Fat causes Heart disease, its the combo of these two food groups *Grains and Fats* that are to blame) and putting back Fat into our diet such as Animal products from grass fed cows and free range Chickens or wild animals and fatty fish. IMO the best way to eat is eating clean….Meat, Vegetables, Nuts, Seeds, Some Fruit, little Starch and NO Sugar! If its got a Nutritional label on it its NOT food.

      • jon johnson

        Sorry I didn’t mean my first comment to sound rude…i’m just very health conscious have very strong convictions that the Food is the healing property for our bodies. Many Drs are in this for money and not the well being of their patients. I work In Cardiology and see it everyday…Drs tell the Pt stop eating meat and eat more fiber (from Processed cereal bars?), you cant get your Cholesterol under control without this Lipitor so take it, it’ll help. Drs seem to only mask the problem instead of finding the source of the problem.

      • Debbie

        I was on Simvistatin for two years. I was becoming lethargic in the afternoon. Couldn’t wait to be home. Didn’t think my legs were going to support me any longer. I decided not to take it any more! I became more aware if my surroundings, got more energy in the afternoon ! But I believe it is the cause of my back and movement problems two years after the fact. Try getting a doctor to even believe that this drug could do this! Metformin is another a may cut out. Do you think that Hydrochlorthiazide could be a culprit to my abnormal gait! I am seeing a teledoc from the Cleveland Clinic from Las Vegas in about a month. Wish me luck!

        • The_Beating_Edge_Team

          Good luck Debbie. It does sound like you need to work with a good doctor to determine the cause of your symptoms and to manage risk factors you have. Let us know if we can be of help.

        • inkdipper

          And did you know that Metformin blocks the absorption of B12? I was having problems; fatigue, memory problems, etc. Heard about the B12 and had mine checked and it was nearly half of what it should be at the very lowest level!

    • The_Beating_Edge_Team

      On 3/25 Dr. Gordon Blackburn, head of our Cardiac Rehab program and Julia Zumpano, a Preventive Cardiology dietitian will be answering questions during a web chat. You can learn more at http://chat.clevelandclinic.org . You may be interested in this upcoming chat. betsyRN

  • Marlene

    I am a heart patient exercise sometimes 3-4 days a week 45 mins-1 hr. Problem I have is lowering my LDL and Triglycerides. There are times I crave for sweets especially in the evenings. Which is my downfall snacks now I am trying to eat more fruits at this time. Is this the sign of being diabetic? I am on lipitor and metformin, linsinopril, plavix, aspirin, & flaxseed gel pill. Where do I start looking for my problem? Oh and I am gaining my weight back….help

    • The_Beating_Edge_Team

      Marlene – you would benefit from a Preventive Cardiology team who could look at your whole picture of diet, exercise, weight, and lipid panel and help design a program for you. At the very least, make an appointment with a dietitian who is experienced in heart diets and could look at your overall eating plan – they can provide you with tips so you don’t get hungry at night and focus on low sugar, low fat. Hope this helps. Please contact us if you have additional questions: http://www.clevelandclinic.org/heartnurse . betsyRN

  • http://www.facebook.com/jerrywlawson Jerry Lawson

    Cholestrol is not the Problem.Inflammation is. Problem starts in the Gut.

    • Meg

      Oh yes you did hit the nail on the head! When I am mindful of the flora in my gut and make food & lifestyle decisions based on lowering inflammation, I feel great & my health numbers back up my choices.

    • Dominique


  • bryant

    Don’t forget the most precious resource in life -Water(stay hydrated mortals)!

  • Pam

    I lowered my total cholesterol almost 30 pts. In 6 months through a steady workout of kettlebells 4-5 x week. How do I know this did it? Because I didn’t change anything else!! Kettlebells are an amazing workout. It takes stamina and discipline but you won’t get better results anywhere else.

  • Ann

    I feel like throwing my opinion at in the ring. My cholesterol is around 228- it has been at least 193 for 30 years now- I’ll be 70 in October. I became a vegetarian in 1984 and didn’t consume meat (I did eat fish and shellfish, however during this time) till 2 years ago when I went on a major diet and started craving beef (hadn’t missed it in all that time). I figured my body was trying to tell me something, so I started back and have continued to eat a very moderate amount of meat since then. It was recommended several years ago by my doctor that I start taking pravastatin, which I really don’t want to do. BTW, my cholesterol has come down in the past year from 248, since I re-introduced the meat and refused to take the Pravastatin. I’ve said to my doctor that if he has a way to prove to me that cholesterol can cause clogged arteries and thus a heart attack, when my blood pressure is always somewhere around 110/60 and pulse 60,I might be interested. I take no prescription drugs, play 2 hours of tennis at least 4 days a week, and average 11000 steps (including the tennis) a day on my pedometer. I also lift 50# sacks of feed for my alpacas and chickens, and most folks think I’m in my mid-50’s!! I’d appreciate any comments you might have! Cheers!

    • GeorgeBMac

      There have been numerous well respected studies that have proven that cholesterol contributes to clogged arteries and associated problems. Plus, the physiology of plaque formation is well understood and oxidized LDL is one of the key ingredients. LDL cholesterol is not the ONLY factor that contributes to heart disease and there are a number of things you can do to decrease your risk of developing heart disease — but doing ALL of them is the healthiest choice: Diet, Exercise, stress reduction — and medication when needed.

      • Janice M Giaco

        High HDL is protective. There are Type A and Type B LDL, the type B is the bad boy. THis one rises commensurate with SUGAR (fructose) metabolism. The key is to eat high fiber low sugar, and again fat is not the true culprit.

        • GeorgeBMac

          Yes, HDL is often protective. And pretty much everybody agrees that overloading your system with sugars and refined carbs is not good. But that does not mean that the saturated fat / LDL / cholesterol theory of heart disease is all wrong. I look on some of the newer theories as expanding on or complementing the conventional wisdom — rather than two conflicting theories battling it out to find which is right and which I wrong.

          • The_Beating_Edge_Team

            True GeorgeBMac. It is a combination of factors that create atherosclerosis – Eating a healthy diet, not smoking, exercising regularly, and keeping your LDL, weight, blood sugars and blood pressure in control (as well as stress management as you mention) will help you prevent progression of heart disease. Thanks for taking the time to comment. betsyRN

          • Janice M Giaco

            Higher HDL in women is protective. Low HDL is a marker that the person has been taking in to many carbs. And it is the fructose part of sucrose that leads to liponeogenesis, fatty liver and the metabolic syndrome. Sorry, a calorie is not a calorie. There are metabolic differences. Fructose is metabolized just like alcohol and is as addictive. The problem is that the “low fat” craze has led food companies to pile on the high fructose corn syrup in everything. That is why I hold all so called “healthy fat foods” suspect until I read the labels..Look at cereal for instance. Only cheerios has 1 gram of sugar per serving. Your so called healthy ones are loaded with sugar. I only eat normal fat PLAIN yogurt for example, none of that so called “low fat good for you yogurt”

      • Michael Padula

        NOT true at all. wow

    • The_Beating_Edge_Team

      First of all – it sounds like you are doing great – you are active, your blood pressure is good and you seem to be in good health. You do not mention other risk factors you may have. The cholesterol numbers you should be looking at are your LDL cholesterol – not sure if that is the number you mention or your Total Cholesterol (TC). If your LDL is 228, you should talk with a dietitian who is part of a preventive cardiology practice to see if you are doing all you can do to bring your cholesterol down. There are dietiary measures you can do (even with eating a little (hopefully lean) meat to help with cholesterol management. Last, if you have risk factors and your LDL is 228, the recommendations, based on AHA guidelines, would be to take medications to bring the cholesterol down. It sounds as though you have given this a lot of thought to come to this decision, but you should talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits. We often have web chats – see chat.clevelandclinic.org/heart for a schedule – that would be beneficial for you to participate. betsRN

    • inkdipper

      Bravo! I like your attitude!!

    • Janice M Giaco

      Read Gary Taubes book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” Good for you that you have avoided statins..Sugar IS the culprit in raising triglycerides. Fat may increase your cholesterol but take note that natural animal fats also RAISE HDL which is good and a high HDL IS associated with LESS heart disease. Partially hydrogenated fats (manmade) are “the Devil Incarnate” as Dr Robert Lustig describes them, so avoid them like the plague.

    • The_Beating_Edge_Team

      Ann – sounds like you are doing great. Your diet is sound. You can include meat but it needs to be lean meats and watch portion sizes and the amount of times you eat it each week – the Mediterranean Diet – http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/nutrition/healthy-diet/mediterranean-diet.aspx food pyramid is a good guide to foods and easy to follow. It could be that while you were avoiding meat, you were eating other non-meat foods that were higher in fats or transfats. [Make sure you focus on your LDL cholesterol rather than the total cholesterol to give you a good guide to your heart health.] Everyone is different – that is the message – some people respond well to diet changes and are able to meet their goals; others do not and need medications. Eat a variety of healthy foods, continue your regular exercise and healthy lifestyle. Here’s to great health in 2014! betsyRN

  • Bharat Patel


  • RS

    For the last 6 to 8 weeks I have been basically eating vegetables, nothing fried, etc. I am highly allergic so far to all statins. Sadly blood tested recently and my good cholesterol went from 65 to 60 and the ldl went from 245 to 249. I exercise but do not walk as much as I should. Weight is fine. Feeling really depressed about this, it’s obviously not diet for me. Seldom have any sugar since I am a diabetic (95% of pancreas removed 25 years ago). Take Lantus and a fast acting insulin for the diabetes.

    • The_Beating_Edge_Team

      RS – you may want to go to a Preventive Cardiology Clinic with a team approach. The dietitians and lipid specialists should be able to work with you to help you find not only what you should avoid, but what you should include to get your labs in balance. In addition, there are ways to include either statins or other meds to help you if diet alone does not help. We should have some informative articles on the blog in the next couple weeks on statin intolerance. Let us know if we can help you further. betsyRN

  • Jerry

    Ever read what Dr. Mercola says about Grains? They are Bad News. Makes Insulin spike. Animal Fats are essential for Gut healing and good Gut health. The Traditional Food Pyramid has changed.

  • moustafa

    Terrible article.. Being veggie and avoiding red meat is unrealistic n biased.. Plus who can afford daily Aerobics! Too many unnecessary points.. By far one of the worst I’ve read here

  • Charlotte Hester-Menektos

    I cut my refined carbs and sugar and total cholesterol went down 20 points fast I take Crestor and supplement with Coq 10 also 2000 mg of Krill I have six stents and never had much luck till I threw out carbs and sugar and ate food that was not processed

  • CSEng69

    Despite what many “believe”, we are animals, and we evolved to hunt (i.e., move), not to sit in cars, offices and couches for much of the day.

    • Janice M Giaco

      I try to eat variety, and now am more concerned that my Beef should be grass fed. The factory farms that feed herbivores chicken and sheep offal and meat and corn are the real culprits.

  • dcdrew8171

    All food is good, but not all food is good for you, your body will let you know, for me at the age I’m at my body no longer breaks down some foods as it did in my younger years, so I adjusted my eating habits to match my body needs, and I am better in so many ways. I want the foods I once craved, but my body health required different. Exercise, fiber, fruits, vegetables, and much less too no animal fat. The short, I love the fat, but it doesn’t love me back, so I sent it packing, some other system.

  • Tony Palmer

    I smell the paleo fad below. I did Paleo. My cholesterol and triglycerides went through the roof. If you have heredity cholesterol problems, hyperlipidemia etc., beware of paleo. As an afterthought, why are paleo proponents like rabid dogs. They are so touchy and defensive.

  • Andrea Maria Anderson

    I am Statin intolerant in that they all have triggered migraines. I have genetically high cholesterol with numbers over 300. Taking drastic dietary measures now; no dairy, little red meat (once a month as a small treat). Trying to find time for more exercise, so hard as a an older mom with you children. Any suggestions?

    • Janice M Giaco

      See the video by Dr Robert Lustig, “Sugar, the Bitter Truth”

  • Janice M Giaco

    We’ve been told to decrease fat in diet for 30 years(we were successful in that) and we have not reduced heart disease. Plus we have seen an explosion of Metabolic syndrome with diabetes obesity along with it..No I never stopped eating butter and eggs and my HDL is great, never mind LDL. We do need fat in the diet. Its the high carbs that have gotten the world in trouble. ( the high carb craze followed the restriction of fat in the diet)

  • Greg

    One meatless meal a week is the same as doing nothing. I tried for years to lower my cholesterol with diet and exercise to no avail. Once I committed to a Vegan or plant based diet; it dropped from 220’s to to 160 in just about 30 days but you have to cut out all meats, poultry, fish and dairy as well as processed foods to see any significant change and you will also feel 100 times better. Not only does your cholesterol go away but your weight drops significantly as well as your BP and other symptoms you did not even realize were related also go away. I was told by two doctors including a neurosurgeon that I had muscular dystrophy due to constant pain in my legs at night and also while exercising. Those pains all disappeared in 30 days and I then realized they were related to artery disease and not MD.

  • Greg
  • Rosuzna

    So, in the last two years I have lost 35 pounds, am eating lots of veggies and fruits via smoothies, exercise (walking) and am on pravastatin and still my cholesterol is not below 200. WHY?? I am 73 years old, weigh 170 pounds. I have regular checkups and blood work and have no other serious medical problems.

    • The_Beating_Edge_Team

      Rosuzna – the focus of care is on the LDL – not the total cholesterol – it could be that your LDL is low and HDL is high – it would be best to test for your lipoprotein profile. It sounds like you are doing a great job and would still be important to look closer at your diet for tweaks – you may want to see a registered dietitian to get more tips. Eatright.org has a search for registered dietitians in your area – http://www.eatright.org/ betsyRN

  • Grant Parisi

    Wheat Belly, Grain Brain, when will the medical establishment stop with this nonsense. We don’t need to do 90 minutes of exercise to stay fit.
    Their are very few good carbs and grains aren’t one of them. Follow a Low Carb High Fat LCHF diet and you will see every marker fall into a normal range, with other benefits you may enjoy as well.

  • Drifa

    I was diagnosed with a coronary arterial blockage a few years ago and was scheduled for an angiogram and stent. Instead I became plant based (no animal products, whole grains, no added oils or fats) and my blockage went away. I no longer take lipitor or BP meds and am symptom free. I find that the diet is easy, tastes great and I feel great. Good for me, good for the environment and good for the animals.