Learn how to improve your heart health and lower your cholesterol by following this delicious 7-day high-cholesterol diet plan.

Emily Heaslip, MS, RD, CD

Pictured recipe: Heart-Healthy Charred Shrimp & Pesto Buddha Bowls

Finding out that you have high cholesterol can leave you with many questions: How did this happen? What should I eat? How do I lower high cholesterol? In this healthy meal plan, we aim to answer those questions and empower you with the knowledge and tools needed to take charge of your health. With more than half of all Americans diagnosed with high cholesterol, it's a common issue. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken seriously. High cholesterol levels are one of the many factors that increase your risk for heart disease. In this heart-healthy meal plan to lower your cholesterol, we map out seven days of meals and snacks to jump-start a healthy lifestyle change. If you're overweight, losing 5-10% of your body weight may help lower your cholesterol, which is why we set this plan at 1,200 daily calories-with modifications for a 1,500- or 2,000-calorie day, depending on your needs.

Related: How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?

What Causes High Cholesterol?

You can blame a mix of genetics, diet and lifestyle for your high cholesterol. When we talk about lowering your cholesterol, we are referring to LDL cholesterol, which is often referred to as "bad cholesterol." This type of cholesterol is responsible for the artery-clogging plaque that increases risk of stroke and heart attack. HDL, or "good cholesterol," takes circulating fat to your liver to be processed, so it's less likely to build up in your arteries. Although genetics can play a role in your LDL numbers, it's important to look at factors that you have the ability to control. Higher body weight, lack of exercise, smoking and nutrition can all play a role.

See More: What You Need to Know About Your Cholesterol Levels

What Are Some High Cholesterol Symptoms?

Unfortunately, high cholesterol is a silent disease, which means it has no symptoms. The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is to get a blood test from a medical provider. The side effects of high cholesterol can be serious because it builds up in our arteries as plaque, which limits blood flow to vital organs. High cholesterol can lead to chest pain, stroke or heart attack if untreated.

High Cholesterol Diet Guidelines

High cholesterol levels are often treated with a combination of prescription medication and diet and lifestyle changes. These healthy eating tips can help to lower your cholesterol to a safe level with or without the use of medication, depending on your individual needs. When you combine these basic high-cholesterol diet guidelines with other healthy lifestyle habits, like exercising daily, not smoking and drinking less alcohol, you'll see your health improve and cholesterol levels return to a healthy range even faster.

Be selective with your fats

Though it sounds backward, foods high in dietary cholesterol (such as shrimp and eggs) don't actually seem to raise our body's cholesterol levels. To lower your cholesterol, limit foods with saturated fats (like red meat, processed meats such as hot dogs and sausage, and cheese and other high-fat dairy items) and instead, go for leaner white meat (like chicken and turkey) and plant-based protein options (like tofu and beans), and switch over to low-fat dairy products. Additionally, you'll want to include more heart-healthy fats from foods like salmon, avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds, which help to improve cholesterol levels.

A step that can have an even larger impact on lowering cholesterol levels is eliminating foods made with hydrogenated fats and partially hydrogenated fats (also known as trans fats), which are highly processed fats (commonly found in shelf-stable baked foods and processed peanut butter) that are associated with increased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. The FDA has banned food manufacturers from adding trans fats as of January 2020, but still check ingredient lists and avoid products with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats listed.

Up your fiber intake

Increasing your fiber intake can help lower your cholesterol. We do this for you in the meal plan below-every day of the plan contains about 30 grams of fiber, which is the recommended daily amount. Most of us know that fiber plays an important role in keeping our digestive systems moving along, but it can also lower cholesterol by binding to the fat in our gut, which prevents our body from absorbing it. Good sources of fiber are fruits and vegetables, whole grains (like oatmeal and brown rice), as well as beans and lentils.

Eat more whole foods

By eating more whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds and other healthy fats, there will be less room for the not-as-healthy foods that can increase cholesterol levels or contribute to other heart-related issues. Foods (ad drinks) containing excess sodium and added sugars can lead to high blood pressure and weight gain, both of which are precursors to heart disease. If your diet largely consists of healthy whole foods, then those times when you're really craving a juicy steak or that doughnut will have less of an impact.

Learn More: Our Top 15 Heart Healthy Foods

How to Meal-Prep Your Week of Meals

Set yourself up for success this week by getting some meal prep done in advance.

Day 1

Breakfast (255 calories)

A.M. Snack (59 calories)

  • 1 medium peach

Lunch (325 calories)

P.M. Snack (105 calories)

  • 8 walnut halves

Dinner (458 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,201 calories, 59 g protein, 129 g carbohydrates, 30 g fiber, 56 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 1,345 mg sodium


To make it 1,500 calories: Add ¼ cup dry roasted unsalted almonds to A.M. snack and 1 pear to lunch.

To make it 2,000 calories: Add 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 1½ Tbsp. almond butter to breakfast, ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds to A.M. snack and 1 banana to lunch, increase walnut halves to ¼ cup at P.M. snack and add a 2-oz. slice of whole-wheat baguette to dinner.

Day 2

Breakfast (274 calories)

  • 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup blackberries
  • ¼ cup Maple Granola

A.M. Snack (64 calories)

  • 1 cup raspberries

Lunch (305 calories)

P.M. Snack (159 calories)

  • 2/3 cup blueberries
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Dinner (403 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,205 calories, 59 g protein, 120 g carbohydrates, 29 g fiber, 58 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 1,266 mg sodium


To make it 1,500 calories: Increase Maple Granola to 1/3 cup at breakfast, add ½ an avocado to lunch and increase almonds to ¼ cup in the P.M. snack.

To make it 2,000 calories: Increase Maple Granola to 1/3 cup and add 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 1½ Tbsp. almond butter to breakfast, add ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds to A.M. snack, add 1 banana and ½ an avocado to lunch, and increase almonds to ¼ cup at P.M. snack.

Meal-Prep Tip: Prepare 1 serving of Date & Pine Nut Overnight Oatmeal to have for breakfast tomorrow.

Day 3

Breakfast (281 calories)

A.M. Snack (101 calories)

  • 1 medium pear

Lunch (305 calories)

P.M. Snack (31 calories)

  • ½ cup blackberries

Dinner (464 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,183 calories, 68 g protein, 127 g carbohydrates, 32 g fiber, 52 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 1,307 mg sodium


To make it 1,500 calories: Add ½ an avocado to lunch and 10 walnut halves to P.M. snack.

To make it 2,000 calories: Add 1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt to breakfast, add ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds to A.M. snack, add 1 banana and ½ an avocado to lunch, add 6 walnut halves to P.M. snack, and add 1 oz. corn tortilla chips to dinner.

Day 4

Breakfast (274 calories)

  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup blackberries
  • ¼ cup Maple Granola

A.M. Snack (59 calories)

  • 1 peach

Lunch (305 calories)

P.M. Snack (64 calories)

  • 1 cup raspberries

Dinner (500 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,201 calories, 57 g protein, 135 g carbohydrates, 32 g fiber, 52 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 1,389 mg sodium


To make it 1,500 calories: Increase Maple Granola to 1/3 cup at breakfast, add 8 walnut halves to A.M. snack and add ½ an avocado to lunch.

To make it 2,000 calories: Add 1 slice whole-wheat toast and 1½ Tbsp. almond butter to breakfast, add ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds to A.M. snack, add 1 banana and ½ an avocado to lunch, and add 1 5-oz. container nonfat plain Greek yogurt to P.M. snack.

Meal-Prep Tip: Prepare 1 serving of Date & Pine Nut Overnight Oatmeal to have for breakfast tomorrow.

Day 5

Breakfast (281 calories)

A.M. Snack (41 calories)

  • 2/3 cup blackberries

Lunch (305 calories)

P.M. Snack (126 calories)

  • 2/3 cup raspberries
  • 1 5-oz. container nonfat plain Greek yogurt

Dinner (459 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,213 calories, 74 g protein, 130 g carbohydrates, 28 g fiber, 48 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 1,257 mg sodium


To make it 1,500 calories: Add ½ an avocado to lunch and add ¼ cup Maple Granola to P.M. snack.

To make it 2,000 calories: Add 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt to breakfast, ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds to A.M. snack, ½ an avocado and 1 banana to lunch, and 1 serving Balsamic & Parmesan Roasted Broccoli to dinner.

Day 6

Breakfast (274 calories)

  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup blackberries
  • ¼ cup Maple Granola

A.M. Snack (83 calories)

  • 1 plum
  • 4 walnut halves

Lunch (304 calories)

P.M. Snack (101 calories)

  • 1 medium pear

Dinner (439 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,201 calories, 79 g protein, 143 g carbohydrates, 33 g fiber, 39 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 1,345 mg sodium


To make it 1,500 calories: Increase Maple Granola to 1/3 cup at breakfast, increase to 10 walnut halves at A.M. snack, and add ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds to P.M. snack.

To make it 2,000 calories: Increase Maple Granola to 1/3 cup at breakfast and add 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 1½ Tbsp. almond butter, increase to 12 walnut halves at A.M. snack, add 1 serving Everything Bagel Avocado Toast to lunch, add ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds to P.M. snack, and add ½ an avocado at dinner.

Day 7

Breakfast (255 calories)

A.M. Snack (30 calories)

  • 1 plum

Lunch (304 calories)

P.M. Snack (206 calories)

  • ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Dinner (405 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,201 calories, 66 g protein, 136 g carbohydrates, 33 g fiber, 51 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 1,361 mg sodium


To make it 1,500 calories: Add 1 banana to breakfast and 15 walnut halves to A.M. snack.

To make it 2,000 calories: Add 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 1½ Tbsp. almond butter to breakfast, add ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds to A.M. snack, add 1 serving Everything Bagel Avocado Toast to lunch, and add 2 servings Vinegary Coleslaw to dinner.

Watch: What You Need to Know About Your Cholesterol Levels

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