8 Foods to Lower LDL Cholesterol, Boost HDL Cholesterol, and Fight Inflammation

Cholesterol! It’s the evil substance plugging arteries everywhere, and statins are the drug industry’s Drano. Even orange juice is jumping on the bandwagon! What did Americans do before the advent of plant oils, margarine, cholesterol-free soy protein, fat-free dairy, and statins? Back when they lived on beef and lard and salt pork and butter and cream and there was no 1% milk to be found, how did they manage their cholesterol? Whatever did they do?

Oddly enough, one thing they didn’t do was die of heart disease.

Cholesterol, and saturated fat, are not necessarily unhealthy. People who eliminate trans fat and carbohydrates from grains (soda, pasta, bread, desserts) see major drops in bad cholesterol and triglycerides despite continuing to eat cholesterol-rich foods like red meat, eggs, cream, and butter. In fact, there’s good reason to question the reigning “lipid hypothesis“, which posits that dietary cholesterol clogs the arteries and leads to heart disease. LDL (bad) cholesterol builds up in the arteries not from how many omelets you eat, but in response to inflammation. This is triggered by a diet high in trans fat and processed carbohydrates, not saturated fat.

If you want to lower your cholesterol, what you’re really talking about is improving your health and reducing your risk of heart disease, right? Right. So be sure that along with lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol you boost good (HDL) cholesterol and control inflammation.

These foods will help you do just that!

1. The grain issue.

Most cholesterol-lowering guides will recommend that you switch refined carbohydrates to whole-grain carbohydrates (such as whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain bread). If you’ve been living on a diet of starchy carbohydrates, this switch will help lower your cholesterol. But to really lower your cholesterol – and reduce inflammation, which is just as significant to heart health and more significant for overall health – eliminate grains entirely. Yes – you read that correctly. Here’s why you need to banish even complex grain carbohydrates from your diet.

2. Eat fruit instead of guzzling juice.

If you are going to eat something sweet, first make sure it’s fruit instead of desserts and candies. But choose fruit, not fruit juice. The benefit of fruit comes from the fiber, so if you drink juice, you’re losing that wonderful benefit and essentially drinking sugar water.

3. Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables daily, and work up to 9.

Good ones are colorful bell peppers, chili peppers, and broccoli.

4. Raise your good cholesterol!

We tend to focus on the negative, but it’s equally important to raise your good cholesterol. Do this with a daily serving of essential fatty acids from avocados, nuts, olive oil, nut oils, and nut butters.

5. Take advantage of every opportunity for Omega-3’s.

Switch from regular eggs to DHA-enhanced eggs. They’re all over the place and relatively inexpensive.

6. Fish: the multi-tasker.

Eat wild, fatty, cold-water fish and consider a fish oil supplement. (Best bets: wild, Alaskan salmon, wild mackerel, Nordic sardines.) Fish is the richest source of Omega-3 fatty acids, so aim for two or three portions a week. Make sure you choose wild, cold-water fish to reduce exposure to chemicals like mercury.

7. Garlic.

Garlic is wonderful for your cardiovascular system and as part of the allium family of plants it’s a natural anti-inflammatory. Other great foods that reduce inflammation: ginger, curry, and chili peppers.

8. Onions ‘n things.

Whether it’s scallions, leeks, chives, white onions, red onions, or shallots, these flavorful bulbs are terrific for quelling inflammation and healing your arteries. Onions also contain high levels of quercetin, an important flavonoid that reduces cholesterol. Try to eat some every day.

In general, focus on eating only fresh, whole, unprocessed foods: meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, legumes, fruits, and nuts.

Further reading:

Sugar Shock!

44 Incredible Recipes for Vegans and Low-Carbers Alike!

What Mark Eats in a Day

10 Great Veggies

10 Awesome Carbs

Sources: iVillage, Weston A. Price

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56 thoughts on “8 Foods to Lower LDL Cholesterol, Boost HDL Cholesterol, and Fight Inflammation”

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  1. I did not know that orange juice lost it’s fiber quality. I love oj…so disappointed…

    1. My understanding is that juice retains its water soluble fiber which is the fiber responsible for lowering cholesterol. If you’ve never juiced your own raw vegetables its difficult to understand how it would fit into your diet. To me, avoiding fresh raw juice because it’s processed would be the same as avoiding whey protein. The two go together quite nicely btw.

  2. Perfect, perfect advice. I always think that it just comes down to eating smart: organic and local fruits and vegetables, whole grains … you know the drill.


  3. Beating up on grains again, you paleo you. Did you know that protein also raises insulin levels? Milk in particular causes insulin levels to skyrocket and the effect lingers into the next meal.

    I like your blog, but you haven’t convinced me to give up my occasional 1/2 cup of oatmeal or 1/4 cup of brown rice.

    1. it protien in milk does not raise your blood sugar. Milk is high in carbs. The carbs aret sweet like glucose or sucrose but its there.

  4. Sonagi,

    I like the way you think. I’m not trying to convince you to give up your occasional minute portion of grain. My POV is that we shouldn’t build a lifestyle or a national food pyramid based on grain, whether whole or processed. Hey, I still drink grain in the form of beer.

    As for some forms of protein raising insulin levels, we’ll be doing a take on that in the future. There is a lot to investigate in the realm of “insulin index” versus “glycemic index”.

    While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I do claim to have strong opinions. If you can convince me to change my opinion, more power to you. Keep those comments coming, Sonagi.

  5. I eat more veggies than anything, much fruit, lots of nuts, omega 3 eggs, fish, and i cook with onions. I do eat oatmeal and brown rice sometimes. It’s working for me, i feel great!
    Along with my exercises. Donna

  6. “My POV is that we shouldn’t build a lifestyle or a national food pyramid based on grain, whether whole or processed. “

    Strongly agree. That’s why I reject the traditional Asian and Mediterranean pyramids in favor of my own design that fills the bottom row with non-starch vegetables. I can’t call it a paleo pyramid because it includes legumes and whole grains.

    While googling research on correlations between diet and diabetes, I came across this interesting study, which found that a Western diet of processed foods highly correlated with the onset of diabetes (no surprise there) and that consumption of red meat and processed meats correlated more highly than the consumption of refined grains. Whole grains and legumes were negatively correlated with the onset of diabetes.


    “Hey, I still drink grain in the form of beer.”

    Heh, heh. We all have our vices, don’t we? One reason why I like your blog a little better than Art’s is that you’re not dogmatic.

    “There is a lot to investigate in the realm of “insulin index” versus “glycemic index”.

    I agree and hope researchers will devote more efforts to exploring the insulinotrophic effects of foods.

  7. Proteins do a great job at raising insulin levels.
    But even fats do. This seems odds since fats have a neutral effect on insulin. So what actually raises insulin? Calorie! Whenever we eat and whatever we eat our insulin levels go up. These levels are known as post-prandial insulin levels and they’re always high.

    The point is that in healthy people high post-prandial insulin levels go down quickly after digestion while on unhealthy people with sugar issues they remain chronically high.

    So that’s the problem of the whole low-carb obsession with insulin. It’s impossible to lower the insulin peak caused by eating even if you eat nothing but butter. But as far as chronically high insulin levels are concerned no ISOCALORIC study has ever showed low-carb diets lowering insulin levels more than unrefined high-carb diets.
    In fact no ISOCALORIC study has ever showed a difference in feeding people which high insulin levels compared to feeding people with low insulin levels.

    So the bottom line is that insulin has nothing to do with fat gain and the reason is simple: both fat and protein has independent fat-storate mechanisms which are activated when excessive calories are consumed (even if it’s just butter)
    Post prandial insulin has nothing to do with inflamation, hyperinsulinemia and diabetes.

    While whole grains are known to raise post prandial insulin (just like beef and cod) they’re also known to be very effective in lowering chronically high insulin levels, increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance; expecially oats, quinoa, buckwheat, spelt and sorghum.

    1. Dont you think that we have so became accustomed to “sitting” to much, that we have now had to adjust our diets to give our lazy, malnourished bodies a break. Our lifestyles (work and social) have consumed us and we have ended up putting preparing cooking real meals and exercise last? Btw, Love your blog. Keep it coming. Anxious to learn more about how I can at least dietarily make a healthy difference for me and my family.

  8. If you want to life healthy, make sure your cholesterol LDL is low in blood. For that you must control your mouth and lifestyle
    take less of bad fat, raise your consumption fruits and vegetable, legumes everyday. if not you run heart disease and heart attack risk.

  9. Dieting now for 2 months to lower LDL. Dieting going way have eliminated saturated fats, red meat, dairy (except for skim milk), drink lot of water and eats lot os fruit and vegetable, as well as 100%whole wheat bread. Concern is what about salt. The info I have says to limit your intake of salto 5 mgs/day. Any thoughts?

  10. What about salt intake w/lowering ldl cholesterol diet. How much salt is adviseable?

  11. I think that natural grains have got to be good for you because our ancestors ate them regularly. The problem is about a hundred years ago manufacturers stopped stone grinding them and got rid of the husks. They eventually created the ‘white’ flour we see today and touted it as better flour. This flour was (worthless) low in nutrition because the husks contain a lot of helpful nutrition that you don’t want to just throw away. So they ‘enriched’ the flour – still it doesn’t touch the original sone-ground flours.

    1. “I think that natural grains have got to be good for you because our ancestors ate them regularly. ”

      I don’t know wether to laugh or shake my head and cry.

  12. What’s the truth on legumes, Mark?

    Above you say: “In general, focus on eating only fresh, whole, unprocessed foods: meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, legumes, fruits, and nuts.” yet I got from your book that legumes are best avoided. P 158 and p 270 (not p 269 as listed in the index)

    Can you clear the confusion please Mark?

  13. thank you so much but it is really not easy living out of grains you knowwww

  14. I stopped eating a vegan diet in September. I have 100% eliminated grains and eat 100% a primal/paleo way.

    Total cholesterol in August of this year was 178. It’s now 233. Both were fasted tests. I don’t have any more specific numbers from this latest test. Only have the bottom line total.

    I can’t get past being worried about this increase and my new total cholesterol number. Bear in mind that I am 100% compliant with primal recommendations with no exceptions.

    1. Dr. Harriet Hall also has posted this:

      “Science is constantly evolving, and I will follow the evidence wherever it leads. The path to LDL-P and Lp(a) is not yet clear.

      “Measuring LDL particle numbers (LDL-P) to predict coronary artery disease risk in healthy individuals should not become part of routine practice, the authors of a new case-control study conclude.”

      “Among older adults in the United States, an elevated level of Lp(a) lipoprotein is an independent predictor of stroke, death from vascular disease, and death from any cause in men but not in women. These data support the use of Lp(a) lipoprotein levels in predicting the risk of these events in older men.” [but not in women or in younger men.]

    2. It’s your individual levels that matter more than total cholesterol.

      You want to aim for low Triglycerides
      High HDL
      Low LDL

  15. As an ex-athlete, it’s tough to accept my rheumatoid arthritis. But I’ve altered my diet to help keep inflammation low. My only vice is some organic candy (hard candies and chocolate bars) and coffee on occassion. No grains, no processed foods and lots of organic fresh fruits and veggies. Just got my cholesterol panel back: LDL: 219, HDL: 76 and Triglycerides: 103. I’m stomped and not excited about taking a statin! Any feedback is very welcome!!

  16. nooo nooo nooo. Lagumes are great for you.
    Most of what you said for the most part is correct EXCEPT for cutting out grains. Grains provide the main source of carbohydrates. Carbs are a MUST in your diet. The only exception ive seen and been ok with, is the adkins diet that has you cut it out the first two weeks of dieting (other successful diets as well). Carbs provide your main source of energy and glucose which is needed in your body in certain levels. My main point Dont cut out carbs!! Fats carbohydrates protein and Amino Acids are so essential in your diets… each at their own levels and all have good and bad sources! Moderation and eating sensably is what you need to do. Pick up a piece of fruit. Eat some hummus before you reach for a twinkie or chips.

      1. This “this is totally false” is the one which is totally false.

        1. Thomas and Brianna, where do you get your info from? 2011? Telling any metabolic challenged person to eat a “moderate” amount of carbs is the same as telling him to dig his grave

  17. Eating 5-9 servings of vegetables a day? Are ya kidding?
    That is a LOT of fiber in 1 day promoting digestive issues and bloating (due to fermented INDIGESTIBLE plant fibers).
    Eat soft vegetables with a skin that you can peel (although some are of the nightshade family) like tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini, etc.
    To add green color to your meals try green onion, chives and cilantro.

  18. For those who are doing everything right and still have high LDL and are stumped, do some research. I have discussed this with my doctor who is in tune with recent studies. It seems that NOT ALL LDL is bad. Pharmaceuticals do not want to hear this! LDL can be broken down to smaller components. Simply, larger LDL molecules are not bad. There needs to be a more readily available test to determine how much of the LDL is bad. Based on this, I suspect many people are taking statins unnecessarily. Do not take my word for it. Talk to your doctor (hopefully he/she is impartial) and do the research.


    1. Tom: good post. Fortunately, my doc also doesn’t look much at cholesterol. On a paleo diet, exercise, blah blah, and my LDL is still a tad high. I would never take statins anyway — but I like your post. Now that I think about it — my testo was high, that may be the reason — just thinking . . .and yes, I’m a girl (on hormones). L

  19. Dear sir/madam,
    I have a spine fracture and i m supported by plates on the spine. For 2 years now i have not been exercising, but can afford to walk slowly for 3 intervals of 30 minutes daily because i am experiencing alot of pain. I feel my muscles are waring out. What can i do?

  20. I love this place…so much free info…I am learning to save my own life. Thanks Mark,Lynn

  21. Please Please Please

    Make a complete diet for me from Breakfast to Dinner

    Again my arteries are blocked after 2007 please suggest what to eat and drink I know what not to eat

  22. My cholesterol is 255 and LDL 175 and Tryglycerides is 245. Please send effects of these and how it affect

  23. My Cholestrol levels are:
    LDL= 215
    VLDL= 34
    I exercise 3 Days a week.
    My job is static.
    I suffer from spondilytis ,hence cannot exercise vigorously.
    I played badminton Three years back for two hours a day.
    My eating habits are excellent. No Puri, samosa Or fried items,no sweets, no red meat. Thrice a week two pegs of Whisky and once a week non veg( chicken) .Physic is slim and trim . Then why has the levels shot up . Please guide is possible.

    1. What about rice, wheat etc. Assuming you do not consume grains at all and if you believe you follow the PRIMAL diet, your cholesterol levels could be hereditary. I watch what I eat and keep myself fit but my cholesterol levels are at borderline level. The doctor said it could be hereditary.

  24. My fasting cholesterol is 233 — good HDL — LDL a little high. High for me, but I remember my Mom’s was too, and now I am 63 :(! Fortunately my progressive doc doesn’t care which is good bc I would never take the drugs anyway. My head says this is fine, but my OCD self is a little disappointed. My diet is almost perfect — grain free, fruits veggies, omega eggs, fish, lean protein, no junk — the usual drill. I am wondering if it’s the coconut oil or the eggs??? Not that it matters bc I believe we do need some cholesterol, but just curious. BTW — My doc says the cholesterol worry is old-fashioned.

  25. I am concerned too. Two blood tests, 3 months apart, have my cholesterol and LDL well over the limits.
    I have been primal for a year and a half, but eating a bit of something sweet some nights. My weight has gone from 85kg to 76kg, with a hint of abs for the first time.
    Oh yeah, I am 52 and my father at that age was a few years past his first heart bypass, heading for another, followed by diabetes and now, dementia.
    I drink up to a litre of milk a day, only have two meals daily, and no grains.
    Few options left now, it may be medication soon.
    Any advice?

  26. Do you have any opinions about overweight people with good blood tests?

    Weight: 250+
    Height: 5’8” female
    Total Cholesterol: 127
    LDL: 43
    HDL: 57
    Triglycerides: 99
    Glucose: 84 (consistently 83-86)
    BP: 105/63 (consistent)

    I eat really well and take care of myself. I don’t smoke or drink and should probably exercise more. Just like some people are predisposed to high cholesterol, can people be predisposed to low cholesterol? I’ve had these numbers since I first had blood tests 5 years ago when I was 23. Doctors keep testing me thinking the tests were flukes because of my weight. I finally found a doctor that’s not so condescending 🙂

  27. I eat lots of veges and fruit to help my diabetic condition. I practice hot yoga every single day and loose between 800 – 1200 calories after each class. I try my very best to keep away from fried foods and saturated fat. But i am told by my freinds – reason for LDL cholestrol going up and up is b’cause liver is producing cholestrol as a result of fasting whole night B4 my intensive yoga class. Any Comments ?

  28. Excellent blog. I’m Asian, 5’6″, 201 lbs 2 months ago, and my cholesterol are as follows:

    I was eating just about everything. Lots of grains (Asian thing) and processed carbs, fruits, veggies. I typically intake 60% carbs, 30% protein, and 10% fat.

    At the start of 2013, I changed up my diet based on what I’ve managed to researched. My diet now consists of 60% protein (red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, even processed meats), 30% fat (primarily from nuts such as macadamia and pine nuts, also animal fats), 10% carbs (primarily from veggies: spinach, collard, broccoli, ginger, carrots, asparagus, spuralina… once or twice a week, I will also have oat brans mixed with flaxseed and oatmeal). I initially did a 2 weeks trial to find my minimal carb tolerance is by starting out with 30grams per day… I continue to increase each dat until my body doesn’t feel “out of it”. I find that my tolerance is about 70-90 grams per day (90% from veggies mentioned above). I kept this consistent for 2 months and splurge (cheat days) on the weekends where anything goes. In 2 months time, I have dropped to 179 lbs on this diet and 6 days of exercise a week. I recently got my cholesterol checked again and here are the results:

    I have cut out my carbs significantly and think that’s what helped. This includes fruits and ALL processed carbs (except for the weekends). Doc told me my LDL could be hereditary, but was utterly shocked that my triglycerides have dropped so much in 2 months.

  29. According to ATP -Adult Treatment Panel of the National Cholesterol Education Program- a good way to measure the right amounts of LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol) is to determine the ratio between the two. That is, you divide the LDL score by the HDL score. This ratio should be at most 3.0 for healthy cholesterol levels. Any figure greater than 3.0 indicates that your LDL is too high and your HDL is too low.

    I learnt that eating a lot of nuts (wallnut, pistacia, etc..), fish, unskinned chicken could raise the HDL levels by proiding omega-3 fatty acids that help check the LDL levels.

  30. I am taking two spoon roasted flex seed in a day . Will it reduce my L D L level & improve the H D L

  31. pls suggest

    Total Cholesterol:-131
    HDL -30
    BP 130/90

    pls suggest

  32. Hi,

    My recent blood check up (last week) given the following details. HDL 22.5 and LDL 68. Dr. suggested atorvas 10mg, food diet, olive oil, omega3 fatty acid (taking 3 times a day – celedrin capsule) etc. I am taking it since 1 week and going for morning walk of 30mins, excercise 45 min.

    If any other tests to be done, please suggest if this HDL is low and dangerous?

    Thank you.

  33. My total Cholesterol 134
    Triglycerides 192
    HDLC 33
    LDLC 62.6
    DLDLC 38.4
    Cholesterol / HDL Ratio 4.06

    Please suggest what will be done to control the above ….

    1. Here’s my latest numbers as of 2015 (after intentionally trying to boost my HDL further and lower my triglycerides even more,…just a fun experiment)

      HDL 110
      LDL 116
      TG 46
      Total Cholesterol 235

      My 2013 Numbers (doing pretty much to what i did in 2015)

      HDL 94
      LDL 77
      TG 52
      Total Cholesterol 181

      Freakishly good ratios on both tests.It’s all about the rations.

      What I do every day:
      1. Surf
      2. Eat 4 teaspoons fish oil
      3. Six omega or pastured eggs
      4. As many vegetables as I can possibly eat
      5. Whey protein
      6. A square of dark chocolate (85%)
      7. Two cups green tea
      8. One sweet potato with coconut oil and cinnamon
      9. Lots of pistachios, almonds and walnuts.

      What do I avoid, Grains, sugar, most fruit except for berries and a bit of melon in season. Would this work for you? Who knows.

      1. LDL 95.3
        HDL 29.7
        TOTAL CHOLESTRAL 148.5
        VLDL CHOLESTROL 28.5
        TRIGLYCERIDES 117.6

  34. I am seriously confused. I’ve had high cholesterol since the age of 18…as far as I can tell. I never had it tested before that. I am between 23-25%body fat, eat healthy and balanced most of the time and exercise at least 3 but moslty 4-5 times a week (moderate to intense.) I assume that my high cholesterol is hereditary as I do not eat so badly as to warrant it…in the form of unhealthy fats anyway. I eat butter…full cream milk…eggs…but i read somewhere that eating these things will not necessarily raise your LDL levels. I do binge eat sweets and unhealthy junk food most weekend ( stopping that as of now)and im wondering if these unhealthy carbs could be the cause of at least some of my high cholesterol? I think I will wat normally for a week, get my LDL and HDL levels checked. Then do 2weeks of low carb and check again. And then 2 weeks low fat..and see which makes the biggest difference. Then again…i read that having high cholesterol is not mecessarily a bad thing either? So many options.So many varied opinions and all quiet convincing. I will be experimenting abit to see who is right. It’ll pay off in the long run I think.

    1. Yes, junk food will probably raise your LDL, lower your HDL and raise your triglycerides. Why eat that stuff? it makes no sense at all.

  35. Are these points evidence based? Is there literature and studies to back these? Where are your sources and what are your credentials

  36. Ok so I’ve been eating primally and exercising lost over 20lbs and my LDL cholesterol is lower. But my HDL when from 48 to 40 in the course of this 9 months. Been having my nuts, avocados, fish etc. Not sure how my HDL could of gotten lower!! Anyone at Mark Daily Apple seen this before? I’m going to try and get some more cardio in, and I’ve started Vitamin B3 supplements.

  37. ApoE4 gene carriers cannot eat a diet high in saturated fat or cholesterol even on LCHF/keto. Doing so will cause heart trouble for them.

    We are a minority of the people who must eat low amounts of butter and egg yolks unfortunately.