High blood cholesterol can lead to cholesterol buildup and blockage in your arteries, which can cause complications such as stroke and heart disease. What you eat may significantly affect the amount of cholesterol in your blood. Here are some tips for adopting a heart-healthy diet that's designed to keep your cholesterol at optimal levels.

Saturated fats often make up the largest source of cholesterol in a person's diet. Saturated fats increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol that clogs the arteries. Common sources of saturated fats are fatty meats; full-fat dairy products such as milk, ice cream and cheese; and certain tropical oils such as palm and coconut.

Trans fats can have an even worse effect on your cholesterol levels. These fats form when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils in a process called hydrogenation that makes the oils less likely to spoil. Trans fats are commonly found in margarine, shortening, and commercially fried and baked foods.

Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can lower your total cholesterol. Find unsaturated fats in vegetable oils such as olive, safflower and soybean; nuts; olives; avocados; and fatty fish such as salmon and sardines.

Cholesterol in foods can raise both total and bad cholesterol. Sources of dietary cholesterol include eggs, meats and full-fat dairy products; eggs contribute the most cholesterol. Doctors recommend decreasing dietary cholesterol to reduce LDL levels. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day.

Soluble fiber makes it more difficult for your body to absorb dietary cholesterol. It can be found in foods like oats (including oatmeal), barley, beans, and some fruits and vegetables.

Plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, don't contain cholesterol. Instead, they contain plant-derived compounds called phytosterols, which are similar in structure and function to cholesterol. But phytosterols help lower cholesterol in people with normal-to-high levels of cholesterol.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that your body doesn't produce and has to get from the foods you eat. They raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol, which helps prevent cholesterol buildup in the arteries. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fatty fish and fish oils, as well as in nuts, seeds, and canola and soybean oils.

Apr. 01, 2014