How can I lower my cholesterol if I have diabetes?

Dr. Tyler S. Carroll, MD
Family Practitioner


Cholesterol lowering is an important aspect of diabetes care. In general, people with diabetes should have a primary goal of lowering their LDL cholesterol to below 100. Additionally, HDL cholesterol should be attempted to be raised above 40 and triglycerides below 150. A low cholesterol diet and regular cardiovascular exercise are initially recommended. If necessary, cholesterol lowering medication may be needed to get the LDL below 100.

People with diabetes should maintain lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels—less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)—than any other group. You are also more likely to have low levels of the so-called good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides, another blood fat that is an independent risk factor for heart disease. That's why your triglyceride levels should remain below 150 mg/dL and your HDL levels above 50 mg/dL.

While statins can help some with these levels, other medications might be needed. And don't forget the second part of the cholesterol-lowering equation: lifestyle changes. That means 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity most days; reducing the amount of saturated and trans fat in your diet; and following a healthy diet high in whole grains and fruits and vegetables.

To lower your cholesterol levels if you have diabetes, you should:

  • Eat less saturated fat. Saturated fat is a type of fat in foods that raises blood cholesterol. Try cutting back on foods high in saturated fat such as meats, butter, whole milk, cream, cheese, lard, shortening and baked goods made with palm oil and coconut oil. Instead, have lean meat, poultry, fish, olive oil, peanut oil, corn oil, low-fat or non-fat milk and cheese, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat foods high in fiber, such as oatmeal, dried beans and dried peas, and citrus fruits.
  • Use special cholesterol-lowering margarine.
  • Keep your blood glucose close to your target range to help lower your triglycerides.
  • Be more active.
  • Aim for a healthy weight by watching portion sizes.
  • Quit smoking to help boost your levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • Watch your alcohol consumption.
  • Take cholesterol-lowering pills as prescribed.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.