Heart attack, stroke, obesity, and high blood pressure can all be avoided or overcome with the right type of low cholesterol diet. The body naturally creates and regulates its own supply of cholesterol, and any that is taken in from the diet is excess.
How do you lower cholesterol levels with diet?
Studies have shown that several diet options decrease bad cholesterol (LDL), increase good cholesterol (HDL), or prevent heart attacks. Here are some of the top choices.
Ornish diet (lacto-vegetarian)
This diet consists of vegetables, fruits, soy products, nonfat milk, and nonfat yogurt. No other animal products are permitted.
Pros: Subjects on this diet have been found to lose up to 24 pounds in one year while experiencing a 37% decrease in LDL and no change to HDL. This is the largest LDL decrease seen to result from any type of diet, and is comparable to the results of high dose statin drugs that (along with their side effects) may only reduce LDL levels by as little as 25%.
Cons: Vegetarian-style diets are difficult for most people to follow. A good way to transition is to slowly remove animal products from your diet and to look for flavorful recipes for ingredients that you are permitted to use. It is also important to acquire all essential amino acids, which can be accomplished by eating spirulina, almonds, chickpeas, or hemp powder.
This diet consists of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, olive oil, fish, and legumes. Check here for recipes and specific information about this method.
Pros: A study found that patients who have had heart attacks are up to 70% less likely to have additional heart attacks while on a Mediterranean diet. The diet also contains many vitamins and minerals, folic acid, flavonoids, and alpha-linolenic acid. Since it includes fish and oils, it is not as restrictive or difficult to follow as a plant-based diet.
Cons: Though it has cardioprotective effects, the Mediterranean diet does not actually reduce cholesterol levels significantly. Patient LDL and HDL were both unaffected during the study, and total cholesterol only fell by 6%.
Standard diet with added phytosterols
If you have cholesterol concerns and cannot change the way you eat, there is still an option that is nearly as effective as statin drugs. People with total cholesterol levels slightly above 200 should consider adding plenty of foods with phytosterols to their existing diet. These compounds decrease the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed into the bloodstream and can be found in:
- Sunflower seeds
- Pure tall oil (or liquid rosin) 
- Rye bread
Pros: The more phytosterols that are consumed, the less cholesterol enters the blood. Two to 3 servings per day have been shown to reduce total cholesterol by 10% and LDL by 14%. The phytosterols themselves are not absorbed, so there are no side effects.[3,4]
Cons: The reduction in cholesterol achieved by eating sunflower seeds and corn may be negated by a diet otherwise high in fats and cholesterol. The Mediterranean and Ornish diets are much more effective at lowering cholesterol. People with total cholesterol levels above 240 should consider changing to one of these diets, as this level corresponds to the greatest risk of coronary heart disease.
How do you lower cholesterol levels with water?
People who do not drink enough water will have higher blood cholesterol levels because the body adjusts its cholesterol distribution to protect cells from dehydration. Subjects who do not drink water for as few as 12 hours have been shown to have an average of 8% more total cholesterol and bad cholesterol in their blood. Laboratory animal studies indicate that cholesterol levels will return to normal after the body is rehydrated.[5,6] According to most studies, men should drink about 3 liters of water per day and women should drink 2.2 liters per day. Check here for more information about the importance of water and here for how you can access affordable filtered drinking water.
Share your experience
Have any dietary changes helped you with cholesterol problems? Do you know any recipes or tips for adjusting to a new diet? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.
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This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.