How to keep your cholesterol down: Best choices to lower levels and foods to avoid

Cholesterol is important for a number of your body’s functions, including building cell membranes, making hormones, helping your metabolism and producing bile acids, according to Better Health Channel.

Too much cholesterol – specifically too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – can lead to health complications such as heart disease and even stroke, according to Better Health Channel.

If your doctor has told you to monitor your cholesterol, or if you’re trying to lower your risk for heart disease, here are some of the best practices to follow.

What are the worst foods for high cholesterol?

The following cholesterol-rich foods are high in saturated fat and should be avoided, according to Cleveland Clinic:

  • Full-fat dairy like whole milk, butter and full-fat yogurt and cheese

  • Red meat such as steak, beef roast, ribs, pork chops and ground beef

  • Processed meats, especially bacon, sausage and hot dogs

  • Fried foods like French fries, fried chicken with skin and other foods fried in a deep fryer

  • Baked goods and sweets including cookies, cakes and doughnuts

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What high cholesterol foods can I eat?

Not all cholesterol-rich foods are automatically bad for you. In fact, some can even have health benefits.

The following cholesterol-rich foods are relatively safe and might not raise your heart disease risk in moderation, according to Cleveland Clinic:

  • Eggs

  • Shellfish

  • Lean meat such as liver, liver pate, kidney, sweetbreads, heart and tripe

What is a healthy cholesterol?

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a total cholesterol level below 200 mg/dL is considered normal.

A cholesterol level between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high.

A cholesterol level at or above 240 mg/dL is considered high.

But according to Medline Plus, LDL cholesterol is the type that causes most cholesterol-related problems. Johns Hopkins Medicine says this is what your LDL cholesterol reading means:

  • Less than 100 mg/dL - optimal

  • 100 mg/dL to 129 mg/dL - near optimal

  • 130 mg/dL to 159 mg/dL - borderline high

  • 160 mg/dL to 189 mg/dL - high

  • 190 mg/dL or above - very high

Foods that lower cholesterol

These foods can lower your LDL cholesterol level, according to Harvard Health Publishing:

  • Oats

  • Barley and other whole grains

  • Beans

  • Eggplant

  • Okra

  • Nuts

  • Vegetable oils

  • Apples

  • Grapes

  • Strawberries

  • Citrus fruits

  • Foods fortified with sterols and stanols

  • Soy

  • Fatty fish

  • Fiber supplements

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Keep cholesterol down: The best and worst foods for high cholesterol