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Blog Nutrition Diets 7-Day Meal Plan To Lower Cholesterol: A Beginner’s Guide To Eating For Heart Health

7-Day Meal Plan To Lower Cholesterol: A Beginner’s Guide To Eating For Heart Health

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A healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons to protect against heart disease. According to research findings, incorporating heart-healthy foods, exercising more, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking can help reduce cardiovascular disease-related deaths by 50 percent. In this article, we’ll look at the causes of high cholesterol. We’ll also look at foods that can either help or hurt your efforts to lower cholesterol. Finally, we’ll give you a 7-day meal plan to lower cholesterol.

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What Causes High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is carried through your blood, attached to proteins. This combination of proteins and cholesterol is called lipoprotein. There are two different types of cholesterol, based on what the lipoprotein carries (12): 

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), aka the “bad cholesterol”. It carries cholesterol to the cells. It has a tendency to become oxidized, which can cause arteries to become clogged.
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL), aka the “good cholesterol”. It carries cholesterol back to the liver and processes and removes it from the body through excretion.

Another type of fat in the blood is called triglycerides, which also influence your risk of heart disease in combination with cholesterol (8). 

The biggest factor in determining your overall cholesterol levels is heredity (7). Your genetic makeup might make it more difficult for your body to remove LDL cholesterol from your blood or break it down in the liver. This doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to develop unhealthy cholesterol levels, but you do need to be proactive in keeping them under control. 

Because diet and lifestyle are important factors, controlling them can help promote heart health. If you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, it’s especially important to incorporate these changes into your daily life.

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Although factors like genetics are beyond your control and aging can sometimes cause this condition, the underlying cause of high cholesterol is often an unhealthy lifestyle. High cholesterol levels can be caused by the following risk factors (3):

  • Smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Obesity and being overweight, especially in the abdominal region (central obesity) 
  • Diet high in saturated and trans fats 
  • High intakes of sugar and refined carbohydrates (sugars) in your diet
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Lack of exercise

Read More: Low-Cholesterol Breakfast: A Beginner’s Guide To Healthy Morning Meals

Why Lower Cholesterol?

High cholesterol levels can cause a dangerous accumulation of plaque on your arteries (11). This accumulation inhibits blood flow through your arteries; resulting in complications such as:

  • Angina and other symptoms of coronary artery disease. It causes chest pain, pressure, or squeezing in the arm, shoulder, and neck.
  • Heart attack. The sudden lack of blood flow to part of the heart muscle, which can result in permanent damage or even death.
  • Stroke. It is also known as a brain attack because it occurs when a clot blocks an artery supplying blood to the brain. This causes major injury to brain tissues, which can lead to paralysis and death.
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How To Lower Cholesterol With A Diet?

As mentioned previously, your genetic makeup plays a big role in determining the overall health of your cholesterol levels. But it’s still important to be proactive with a healthy diet, lifestyle, and weight management if you want to maintain good heart health. 

What Foods Are High In Cholesterol?

Some foods naturally contain cholesterol, called dietary cholesterol. According to the NHS, dietary cholesterol has much less of an effect on the cholesterol levels in your blood than saturated and trans fats (13). Foods high in dietary cholesterol (and safe to eat in moderation) include:

  • Organ meats (kidneys)
  • Eggs
  • Prawns

Eating too many foods high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood. This is because saturated fats cause your liver to produce more LDL cholesterol. It’s best to replace saturated and trans-fats with healthy unsaturated fats.

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Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • Butter, ghee, and lard
  • Cream and cream-based sauces 
  • Processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, sausage, salami
  • Fatty cuts of red meat
  • Hard cheeses
  • Foods containing coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter

Trans fats can also raise cholesterol levels (19). Foods containing trans fats include:

  • Processed foods like pastries, pies, cakes, and biscuits made with trans-fat (partially hydrogenated) vegetable oils
  • Commercially fried food products
  • Fries or potato chips fried in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans-fats)

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What Are The Best Foods To Lower Cholesterol?

Unsaturated fats don’t increase your cholesterol levels. They’re actually beneficial because they lower overall cholesterol and blood pressure while still providing energy for your body (1). You can find them in:

  • Fish, such as salmon, mackerel, or tuna, and oily fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids (fats that may lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol)
  • Nuts such as almonds, brazil nuts, and walnuts (almonds are a good source of magnesium, calcium, and vitamin E)
  • Lean red meats such as low-fat beef, lean pork meat, or lamb 
  • Vegetable oils and spreads such as rapeseed or vegetable oil, sunflower, olive, corn, and walnut oils

Diet Plans That Help Lower Cholesterol

A diet that’s low in salt, sugar, and saturated/trans fats and rich in omega-3 fatty acids can lower LDL cholesterol (14). You should also aim to eat three portions of fatty fish per week. A portion will be around two average-sized servings or 140g. 

A diet high in fruits and vegetables is a must if you want to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. 

The fruits and vegetables highest in soluble fiber are plums, pears, apples, and oranges. Soluble fiber binds with fatty substances in your gut so that they get excreted from your body instead of entering your bloodstream (4).

The Mediterranean and Vegetarian diets are particularly suitable for reducing cholesterol. We take a look at each of these diets below.

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The Mediterranean Diet For Lowering Cholesterol Levels

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that contains foods typically consumed in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. This includes items like olives, olive oil, garlic, fish, vegetables, and whole grains—all of which help lower cholesterol levels naturally (17).

How Does The Mediterranean Diet Help Lower Cholesterol?

The Mediterranean diet consists of natural foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and fish. These foods contain phytochemicals that help reduce cholesterol levels in the body by preventing your body from absorbing as much cholesterol from the limited high-fat foods you consume (5). The Mediterranean diet also encourages regular exercise, which promotes heart health and aids with the circulation that helps keep blood pressure down.

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Foods To Eat On The Mediterranean Diet

The diet is based on whole foods, as opposed to the processed food that has dominated much of our daily diets. The following are some examples of the foods recommended in this diet:

  • Fish

Salmon, halibut, and sole are fish high in omega-3 fatty acids that help to lower cholesterol levels (14).

Read More: Is Raw Salmon Good For You?

  • Vegetables

Carrot salads, eggplant, and zucchini grilled or steamed with other vegetables are recommended on this diet because they are low-fat and high in nutrients.

  • Olives

Olives are used frequently in recipes common to this diet. They contain polyphenol molecules that function as antioxidants, which also lowers cholesterol levels (6).

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  • Seeds

Pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, and sesame seeds all help lower cholesterol through their beneficial oils.

  • Red Wine

Red wine contains the component resveratrol, an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals. Resveratrol prevents LDL (bad) cholesterol from turning into plaque buildup in the arteries by inhibiting a certain enzyme called HMGCoA reductase (16). Cooking does not affect the resveratrol content of a wine. A Mediterranean diet includes red wine only in moderation, because too much alcohol can counterbalance the positive effects that resveratrol has on heart health.

  • Vegetable Oils

Olive and canola are the two vegetable oils suggested on this diet. They contain monounsaturated fats that help lower cholesterol by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol in your body (2). When consumed in excess, saturated fats, like those found in butter, may have the opposite effect and actually increase LDL cholesterol levels.

Foods To Avoid On The Mediterranean Diet

Any food with trans fat. Your goal is to eat as little trans fat as possible while still following a balanced diet. Foods high in trans fat include fried foods such as donuts and french fries, commercially baked goods like cookies and cakes made with partially hydrogenated oil, margarine spreads, fast-food fries, processed and packaged snacks.

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7-Day Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan To Lower Cholesterol And Lose Weight

With this simple 1500-calorie meal plan, you’ll protect your heart and lose a healthy 1 to 2 pounds per week in the process. The meals and snacks in this diet plan feature heart-healthy foods that are part of the Mediterranean diet. 

Day 1

  • Breakfast: 1 serving Greek yogurt with blueberries, walnuts, and honey (18.4g carbs, 30.6g fat, 17.7g protein, and 405 calories)
  • Lunch: 2 hummus and veggie sandwiches (75.9g carbs, 16.1g fat, 26g protein, and 532 calories)
  • Supper: 1 serving roasted salmon with 2 servings of garlic green beans (23.9g carbs, 37.2g fat, 34.1g protein, and 567 calories)

Total daily calories: 1504 calories 

Day 2

  • Breakfast: 2 servings of spinach, Swiss and egg white omelet with 2 slices of whole-wheat toast (29.5g carbs, 10.9g fat, 42.5g protein, and 392 calories)
  • Lunch: 1 serving of tuna stuffed pepper with 1 avocado (29.5g carbs, 32.2g fat, 39.1g, and 534 calories)
  • Supper: 2 servings of chicken labor (66.7g, 7.4g fat, 56.5g protein, and 570 calories)

Total daily calories: 1496 calories

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Day 3

  • Breakfast: 1 serving Asian salmon in foil (20g carbs, 22g fat, 59g protein, and 525 calories)
  • Lunch: 1 serving of basic mixed green salad with peanut butter and celery (4 stalks of celery with 4 tablespoons of peanut butter) (30.6g carbs, 32.8g fat, 20.7g protein, and 467 calories)
  • Supper: 2 servings vegetable stir fry (52.7g carbs, 29.1g fat, 16.7g protein, and 501 calories)

Total daily calories: 1492 calories 

Day 4

  • Breakfast: 1 serving Southwestern eggs with 2 slices of whole-wheat toast (27.1g carbs, 20.2g fat, 25.8g protein, and 397 calories)
  • Lunch: 1 simple Caprese sandwich with 1 ounce of almonds (58.1g carbs, 22.9g fat, 22.9g protein, and 518 calories)
  • Supper: 2 servings of veggie and chicken salad (42.2g carbs, 31.4g fat, 38.9g protein, and 589 calories)

Total daily calories: 1503 calories

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Day 5

  • Breakfast: 2 servings of spinach and mushroom breakfast scramble with 1 cup of strawberries (23.3g carbs, 10.9g fat, 60.3g protein, and 430 calories)
  • Lunch: 1 serving of chicken and avocado salad (12g carbs, 25g fat, 34.6g protein, and 404 calories)
  • Supper: 2 kidney bean quesadillas tortillas (84.2g carbs, 25.5g fat, 31.6g protein, and 679 calories)

Total daily calories: 1512 calories

Day 6

  • Breakfast: Gordon Ramsay’s scrambled eggs (1.4g carbs, 40.1g fat, 19.3 g protein, and 445 calories)
  • Lunch: 1 serving of basic mixed green salad with peanut butter and celery (4 stalks of celery with 4 tablespoons of peanut butter) (30.6g carbs, 32.8g fat, 20.7g protein, and 467 calories)
  • Supper: 1 serving of tuna patties with 2 servings of green beans with olive oil (37g carbs, 22.3g fat, 47.1g protein, and 524 calories)

Total daily calories: 1491 calories

Day 7

  • Breakfast: 1 serving of peach yogurt parfait (53g carbs, 18.6g fat, 17.9g protein, and 443 calories)
  • Lunch: 2 tomatoes and hummus on rye sandwiches (66.7g carbs, 13.5g fat, 15.4g protein, and 426 calories)
  • Supper: 1 chicken wrap with 2 servings of steamed broccoli with olive oil and parmesan (47.9g carbs, 32.8g fat, 41.1g protein, and 630 calories)

Total daily calories: 1499 calories

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Vegetarian Diet For Lowering Cholesterol Levels

The vegetarian diet offers many health benefits, and one of them is lowering cholesterol levels. A vegetarian lifestyle not only helps you shed off excess pounds, but it also helps lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol as well. This way, the risk for heart problems like high blood pressure and heart disease can be decreased significantly (9).

A diet that consists of no animal products is quite low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, which are considered the main culprits in increasing bad cholesterol levels in the body. Furthermore, this kind of diet has been known to help reduce blood triglyceride levels effectively. 

Non-meat protein sources such as soy products have been associated with an increase in vitamin B12 levels. These vitamins are essential for lowering the risk of stroke (20). 

While on a vegetarian diet for lowering cholesterol levels, you should eat foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.

foods high in cholesterol
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Foods To Eat On A Vegetarian Diet For Lowering Cholesterol Levels 

Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are all excellent sources of fiber and other nutrients. They should be included in your diet if you want to lower your cholesterol level naturally with the vegetarian diet (18). Such foods include:

  • Oatmeal, brown rice, and other whole grains
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Cruciferous vegetables like celery and broccoli
  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale
  • Berries
  • Avocados
  • Citrus fruits

A vegetarian lifestyle also includes a lot of vegetable oils that contain phytochemicals, which help reduce bad cholesterol levels by preventing LDL from being absorbed by the body (15). Some foods high in these antioxidants include:

  • Olives
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews)
  • Seeds (sunflower and pumpkin seeds)
  • Soy products (tofu, edamame) 
  • Legumes such as kidney beans

Foods To Avoid On The Vegetarian Diet

The vegetarian diet excludes the following foods:

  • Beef
  • Poultry including turkey, duck, and chicken
  • Fish and seafood including lobster, shrimp, and scallops
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7-Day Vegetarian Diet Meal Plan To Lower Cholesterol And Lose Weight

With this simple 1500-calorie meal plan, you’ll protect your heart and lose a healthy 1 to 2 pounds per week in the process. The meals and snacks in this diet plan feature heart-healthy foods that are part of the vegetarian diet. 

Day 1

  • Breakfast: 2 pans of pesto scrambled (5.9g carbs, 45.5g fat, 28.3g protein, and 553 calories)
  • Lunch: 2 veggie and hummus sandwiches (73.8g carbs, 9.9g fat, 20.2g protein, and 466 calories)
  • Supper: 2 servings of mozzarella and hummus on multigrain flatbread with 1 serving of zucchini spears with parmesan (45g carbs, 20g fat, 41.2g protein, and 483 calories)

Total daily calories: 1502 calories 

Day 2

  • Breakfast: 1 serving of protein yogurt and blueberries (39.4g carbs, 16.5g fat, 53.7g protein, and 503 calories)
  • Lunch: 1 banana with 2 tablespoons almond butter and 5 raisins and 1 avocado (48.1g carbs, 35.7g fat, 7.6g protein, and 498 calories)
  • Supper: 1 serving of pasta with red sauce and mozzarella with 1 serving of steamed broccoli with olive oil and parmesan (59.3g carbs, 20.6g fat, 24.7g protein, and 497 calories)

Total daily calories: 1499 calories

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Day 3

  • Breakfast: 2 servings of pear banana smoothie (116.2g carbs, 2.1g fat, 8.3g protein, and 461 calories)
  • Lunch: 1 serving of peanut butter and honey sandwich on rye with 1 cup of carrots strips, and 5 tablespoons of hummus (64.5g carbs, 25.6g fat, 20.2g protein, and 545 calories)
  • Supper: 2 servings of garlic angel hair pasta with roasted asparagus and onions (68.8g carbs, 15g fat, 21.1g protein, and 495 calories)

Total daily calories: 1501 calories

Day 4

  • Breakfast: 2 servings of cinnamon blueberry breakfast smoothie (101.7g carbs, 6g fat, 20.2g protein, and 506 calories)
  • Lunch: 1 hummus and veggie sandwich with 2 medium bananas (91.8g carbs, 8.8g fat, 15.6g protein, and 476 calories)
  • Supper: 1 serving black bean vegetarian quesadillas with 2 easy hard-boiled eggs (50.7g carbs, 21.3g fat, 31.5g protein, and 517 calories)

Total daily calories: 1499 calories 

Day 5

  • Breakfast: 1 serving super green energy drink (125.6g carbs, 1.8g fat, 7.7g protein, and 471 calories)
  • Lunch: 2 servings of cauliflower and mushrooms with ranch snack (19.5g carbs, 32.4g fat, 10.9g protein, and 392 calories)
  • Supper: 2 cups of rice and black beans (112.3g carbs, 7.2g fat, 26.8g protein, and 621 calories)

Total daily calories: 1503 calories

7 day meal plan to lower cholesterol
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Day 6

  • Breakfast: 2 servings of berry yogurt smoothie (74g carbs, 1.3g fat, 29.8g protein, and 415 calories)
  • Lunch: 2 servings of Southwestern salad with black beans (93.2g carbs, 2.7g fat, 25.1g protein, and 460 calories)
  • Supper: 2 servings of grilled cheese with tomato, peppers, and basil (53.3g carbs, 34.6g fat, 28.7g protein, and 633 calories)

Total daily calories: 1509 calories 

Day 7

  • Breakfast: 2 bowls of oatmeal and peaches with 2 cups of blueberries (122g carbs, 3.6g fat, 13.7g protein, and 520 calories)
  • Lunch: 1 serving of kale and pesto salad (54.1g carbs, 16.4g fat, 18.8g protein, and 423 calories)
  • Supper: 2 servings of zucchini pasta in a lemon cream sauce (34.8g carbs, 45.3g fat, 15.7g protein, and 572 calories)

Total daily calories: 1515 calories 

How To Lower Cholesterol With Diet: Other Factors To Consider

Exercise is a vital part of any cholesterol-lowering regime. Exercise increases blood flow to your muscles and organs and helps you maintain a healthy weight (10). 

Controlling stress is an important part of maintaining good heart health too. Stress can raise levels of LDL cholesterol, so it’s important to have a good work-life balance. You can meditate or take up yoga.

If your cholesterol levels are high but falling within the normal range, you may be able to stop taking statins if your doctor agrees. Statin medication can cause side effects such as muscle pain or liver dysfunction, so it’s important to follow a healthy diet plan and try not to exceed the recommended daily intake of saturated/trans fats and cholesterol.

Weight Loss According To The Age

The Bottom Line

A well-balanced diet can be used as part of a healthy lifestyle plan to help reduce cholesterol levels and lower the risk of developing heart problems. Mediterranean and vegetarian diets are not only good for heart health but also quite easy to follow if you’re looking to lose weight as well.

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DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. 11 Foods that Lower Cholesterol – Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard (2021, health.harvard.edu)
  2. Adding monounsaturated fatty acids to a dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods in hypercholesterolemia (2010, cmaj.ca)
  3. Blood Cholesterol | NHLBI, NIH (2018, nhlbi.nih.gov)
  4. Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis (1999, academic.oup.com)
  5. Effectiveness of altering serum cholesterol levels without drugs (2000, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. Extra Virgin Olive Oil Polyphenols Promote Cholesterol Efflux and Improve HDL Functionality (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  7. Genetic-epidemiological evidence on genes associated with HDL cholesterol levels: A systematic in-depth review (2008, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  8. HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides (2020, heart.org)
  9. Health effects of vegan diets | The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition | Oxford Academic (2009, academic.oup.com)
  10. High cholesterol – How to lower your cholesterol (2019, nhs.uk)
  11. High cholesterol – Symptoms and causes (2021, mayoclinic.org)
  12. LDL & HDL: Good & Bad Cholesterol | cdc.gov (2020, cdc.gov)
  13. Lower your cholesterol (2018, nhs.uk)
  14. Overview of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Therapies (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  15. Phytosterols – an overview (n.d., sciencedirect.com)
  16. Resveratrol and Cardiovascular Diseases (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  17. The Mediterranean Diet decreases LDL atherogenicity in high cardiovascular risk individuals: a randomized controlled trial (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  18. The vegetarian diet – Eat well (2018, nhs.uk)
  19. Trans fatty acids and cholesterol levels: An evidence map of the available science (2016, sciencedirect.com)
  20. Vitamin B12 in Health and Disease (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
ZindzyGracia
ZindzyGracia

Zindzy is a freelance writer who specializes in creating web content in the health & wellness niche. The articles she writes focus on providing factual information – but never at the expense of providing an entertaining read.
Her interest in health & wellness was sparked by her motherhood journey. She realized just how much damage misinformation could cause, especially when it is targeted at new moms who are keen on postpartum weight loss.
So for years, she has worked hard to demystify the seemingly complex concepts of health & wellness. Eventually, she made one startling discovery that she wishes to share with all – there is no short cut. Consistency and hard work are the keys to a healthy mind and body.
But, writing is not all she does. Being a mother to an energetic toddler means her free time is spent exploring the outdoors, arms laden with cotton candy and toys. Through the daily intrigues of work and play, she continues to discover and share more ways to keep fit and stay healthy!

K. Fleming
K. Fleming

I am a U.S. educated and trained Registered Dietitian (MS, RD, CNSC) with clinical and international development experience. I have experience conducting systematic reviews and evaluating the scientific literature both as a graduate student and later to inform my own evidence-based practice as an RD. I am currently based in Lusaka, Zambia after my Peace Corps service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for some meaningful work to do as I figure out next steps. This would be my first freelance project, but I am a diligent worker and quite used to independent and self-motivated work.

Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, CNSC

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