Learn how to lower your high cholesterol and improve your heart health by following this simple 7-day high cholesterol meal plan for beginners.

Emily Lachtrupp, M.S., R.D., C.D.
September 14, 2020
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In this 7-day plan for beginners, we map out a week of healthy meals and snacks that will help lower your cholesterol. To keep it simple, we meal-prep breakfast and lunch so you can grab-and-go plus we focus on simple recipes without lengthy ingredient lists. Bonus—you'll see several one-pot and sheet-pan dinners which means less time spent on cleanup. To help lower cholesterol, we include plenty of fiber—an important nutrient for both gut and heart health—by focusing on fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes while limiting cholesterol-raising saturated fat and simple carbohydrates.

What Causes High Cholesterol & How to Lower It:

High cholesterol can be caused by several factors—including family history. Lack of exercise, being overweight, an unhealthy diet (think high intake of fast foods, processed foods, animal fats and sugar), plus smoking can all play a role in raising your cholesterol. According to the CDC, a total cholesterol of over 200 mg/dL is considered high. However, there are no symptoms of high cholesterol, so be sure to have a discussion with your medical provider about getting your levels checked. Although high cholesterol doesn't have symptoms, side effects of high cholesterol include heart attack and stroke, so it's important to practice prevention and discuss your risk factors at your annual visit.

To reduce risk, there are several lifestyle changes we can make, like increasing exercise and focusing on a diet that is high in fiber and healthy unsaturated fats (think olive oil, salmon and nuts and seeds), while limiting excess sugar and saturated or trans fats. Plus, losing weight if you're overweight can positively improve your cholesterol, so we set this plan at 1,500 calories, which is a level where most people will lose weight. We also included modifications for 1,200 or 2,000 calories a day, depending on your needs.

What to Look Out for When Shopping for Foods to Lower Cholesterol:

When grocery shopping, there are foods you'll want to focus on and foods to avoid to lower your cholesterol. To lower your cholesterol, focus on foods high in fiber like canned or dried beans or lentils, fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen!), as well as whole grains like quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread. Other healthy options to focus on include those foods high in unsaturated fats like nuts and seeds—including chia and flax, as well as olive oil, avocado and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon. These healthy fats help raise your good HDL cholesterol which protects your heart. Some other foods you can eat that may surprise you—eggs and shrimp. Although traditionally avoided because they're high in dietary cholesterol, there's not a lot of evidence that cholesterol in foods actually raises our body's cholesterol, so feel free to include these foods in your healthy diet plan.

Foods to avoid when you're trying to lower cholesterol include foods high in saturated fats—namely animal fats like butter, cream and fatty cuts of meat, such as sausages. Because it's high in saturated fat, the American Heart Association recommends limiting red meat, like beef and pork, to twice a week. Another sneaky fat that has a big impact on raising your cholesterol: trans fats. The FDA did ban trans fats from foods, as they can significantly raise cholesterol and should be avoided as much as possible; however, some foods may still contain them. It's important to read the ingredient list so identify any hidden fat, as it can be listed as 0 g on the label as long as the food contains less than 0.5 g per serving.

To identify trans fats, look at the ingredient list and try to avoid foods that say "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated fats." You'll often find them in processed foods, especially processed baked goods, as well as some peanut butters, so try to opt for a natural peanut butter that contains just two ingredients: peanuts and salt.

Plus, you'll want to limit refined sugars and simple carbohydrates like white bread, white flour, white rice and sweets, including soda. These foods can raise a type of cholesterol called triglycerides, so be sure to focus on whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables instead of simple starches and sugar.

Healthy Foods to Lower Cholesterol:

  • Beans and lentils
  • Fish, especially salmon
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds, including chia and flax
  • Natural peanut butter or any nut butter
  • Whole grains, such as oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice or whole-wheat bread
  • Fruit, especially high-fiber fruits like berries, apples and pears
  • Vegetables, especially dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes and winter squash

How to Meal-Prep Your Week of Meals:

  1. Prepare Cinnamon Roll Overnight Oats to have for breakfast on Days 2 through 6.
  2. Make Sweet Potato, Kale & Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing to have for lunch on Days 2 through 5.

Day 1

Breakfast (293 calories)

A.M. Snack (131 calories)

  • 1 large pear

Lunch (387 calories)

P.M. Snack (206 calories)

  • 1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Dinner (504 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,521 calories, 67 g protein, 153 g carbohydrates, 37 g fiber, 76 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 1,257 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Change the A.M. snack to 1 clementine, omit the orange at lunch and change the P.M. snack to 1 plum.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Add 1/3 cup walnut halves to A.M. snack, add 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt to lunch and add 1 large apple to the P.M. snack.

Day 2

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Breakfast (280 calories)

A.M. Snack (206 calories)

  • 1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Lunch (428 calories)

P.M. Snack (112 calories)

  • 1/2 cup cucumber, sliced
  • 1/4 cup hummus

Dinner (472 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,497 calories, 85 g protein, 184 g carbohydrates, 42 g fiber, 52 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 1,664 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Change the A.M. snack to 1/2 cup sliced bell pepper and omit the hummus at the P.M. snack.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Add 1 large apple to breakfast, add 1 large pear to A.M. snack, add 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt to lunch and add 1 serving Guacamole Chopped Salad to dinner.

Day 3

Breakfast (280 calories)

A.M. Snack (131 calories)

  • 1 large pear

Lunch (428 calories)

P.M. Snack (197 calories)

  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup raspberries
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

Dinner (450 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,486 calories, 96 g protein, 158 g carbohydrates, 33 g fiber, 57 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 1,623 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Change the A.M. snack to 1 plum and omit the yogurt and chopped walnuts at the P.M. snack.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Add 3 Tbsp. chopped walnuts to breakfast, add 1/3 cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds to A.M. snack and add a 1-oz. slice whole-wheat baguette to dinner.

Day 4

Breakfast (280 calories)

A.M. Snack (131 calories)

  • 1 large pear

Lunch (428 calories)

P.M. Snack (291 calories)

  • 1 medium apple
  • 2 Tbsp. almond butter

Dinner (374 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,504 calories, 84 g protein, 172 g carbohydrates, 30 g fiber, 58 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 1,390 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Change the A.M. snack to 1 plum and omit the almond butter at the P.M. snack.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Add 1/3 cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds to A.M. snack and add 1 serving Guacamole Chopped Salad to dinner.

Day 5

Meal-Prep Tip: In the morning, prepare the Slow-Cooker Mediterranean Stew through Step 1 so it's ready in time for dinner.

Breakfast (280 calories)

A.M. Snack (193 calories)

  • 25 unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Lunch (428 calories)

P.M. Snack (95 calories)

  • 1 medium apple

Dinner (501 calories)

Meal-Prep Tip: Reserve two servings of the Slow-Cooker Mediterranean Stew to have for lunch on Days 6 & 7.

Daily Totals: 1,496 calories, 68 g protein, 149 g carbohydrates, 35 g fiber, 74 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 1,551 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Change the A.M. snack to 1 medium orange and omit the avocado at dinner.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Increase to 1/3 cup almonds and add 1 large pear to A.M. snack plus add 3 Tbsp. almond butter to P.M. snack.

Day 6

Breakfast (280 calories)

A.M. Snack (95 calories)

  • 1 medium apple

Lunch (322 calories)

P.M. Snack (244 calories)

  • 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup raspberries
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

Dinner (548 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,490 calories, 66 g protein, 175 g carbohydrates, 36 g fiber, 62 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 1,490 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Change the A.M. snack to 1 clementine and omit the yogurt and walnuts at the P.M. snack.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Add 1 medium orange to breakfast, add 3 Tbsp. almond butter to A.M. snack and add 1/2 avocado, sliced, to dinner.

Day 7

Breakfast (293 calories)

A.M. Snack (301 calories)

  • 1 medium apple
  • 1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Lunch (322 calories)

P.M. Snack (116 calories)

  • 3/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup raspberries

Dinner (482 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,514 calories, 70 g protein, 161 g carbohydrates, 30 g fiber, 69 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 883 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Omit the almonds at A.M. snack and omit the yogurt at P.M. snack.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Add 3/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt to breakfast, increase to 1/3 cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds at A.M. snack and add 1 serving Guacamole Chopped Salad to dinner.