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Foods and Their Effects on 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

Found in these foods

Effect on your cholesterol level

  • Red wine
  • White wine
  • Beer
  • Hard liquor
  • Moderate consumption (up to 1 glass a day for a woman; 1–2 a day for a man) may 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 cholesterol
  • Egg yolks
  • Poultry, especially skin
  • Red meat, especially organ meats
  • Dairy products that are not low-fat (1%) or nonfat
  • Shellfish
  • Raises total blood cholesterol
  • May combine with saturated fat to raise blood cholesterol
  • Shrimp and crawfish have more cholesterol than fish but are still lower in total fat and saturated fat than most meats and poultry.
Dietary fiber (soluble)
  • Oats
  • Dried beans (legumes)
  • Peas
  • Barley
  • Citrus fruits
  • Apples
  • Proven to reduce total cholesterol and LDL
Saturated fat
  • Fatty meats (beef, pork)
  • Poultry skin
  • Butterfat (in whole milk, cream, ice cream, cheese)
  • Tropical oils (coconut, palm)
Monounsaturated fat
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • 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, margarine, vegetable shortening, nondairy creamer, 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

* Doctors do not generally recommend drinking alcohol to raise your HDL cholesterol level, and you should not do so without first consulting your doctor.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Carl Orringer, MD - Cardiology, Clinical Lipidology
Last Revised July 2, 2010

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