Foods High in Unsaturated Fat Can Help Lower Cholesterol

Fat often gets a bad rap. And as far as saturated fats and trans fats are concerned, that reputation is well-deserved. These fats can raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad cholesterol"), clogging arteries and leading to heart attack and stroke.

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, aren't deserving of guilt by association. Known as “good fats,” they can—among other things—improve levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL helps get harmful cholesterol to your liver so it can be cleared by the body.

When grocery shopping, remember all of the following reasons why unsaturated fats deserve a place in your cart if you need to lower your cholesterol (and even if you don't). And look for the foods reviewed here, which are high in this essential nutrient.

Mixed olives and oil in a wooden dish with rosemary
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The Benefits of Unsaturated Fat

The mechanisms by which unsaturated fats affect lipids are not fully known, but studies have shown that they can modestly lower your bad cholesterol and increase your good cholesterol.

Some polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), such as omega-3 fatty acids, can also help lower your triglyceride levels.

Beyond that, unsaturated fats play an essential role in fueling your body and supporting cell growth.

They help protect the organs, promote nutrient absorption, and produce important hormones.

Consuming healthy levels of unsaturated fats helps lower the risk of vascular disease, heart disease, and stroke.

Foods Higher in Unsaturated Fats

As you work to incorporate these and other sources of unsaturated fat into your diet, make sure you are also swapping out foods that are high in saturated fat.

Aside from potentially increasing your overall lipid levels, you may risk gaining weight if you don't.


Avocados are a delicious fruit that is chock-full of monounsaturated fats.

They can be added to many recipes without too much prep. Mash one up and spread some on a sandwich, or add slices to your favorite soup, salad, or entrée.


Olives are not only high in flavor, but they are also high in monounsaturated fats.

Whether you slice, dice, or use them whole, there are many opportunities to add olives to your cholesterol-friendly diet. Work them into a tomato sauce, create a tapenade, or grab some for a satisfying snack.

Sample different varieties—Kalamata, Manzanilla, Castelvetrano, and many, many more⁠—to experience the array of flavors.


These delicious foods come in a wide variety of types and most people like at least a few varieties. Nuts are high in both PUFAs and monounsaturated fats.

Walnuts are typically higher in PUFAs in comparison to other nuts, whereas pistachios, almonds, and pecans are higher in monounsaturated fats.

Nuts are also high in other healthy ingredients, such as fiber, phytosterols, vitamins, minerals, and protein.

Nuts are versatile and can be included in your diet in a number of ways. A handful of nuts can make a satisfying snack, or they can be added to a salad.

Fatty Fish

Fish are generally lean and good to include in your lipid-lowering diet.

Some fish are high in omega-3 fats, a type of PUFA. Fish in this category include salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and anchovies.

If you include this type of fish in your diet, you can keep it heart-healthy by grilling, baking, or poaching. Avoid frying the fish, as this can introduce calories and unhealthy trans fats into your diet.

Certain Oils

If you’re following a lipid-lowering diet, you can switch out butter or margarine for oils high in unsaturated fat.

These oils include olive, canola, vegetable, safflower, corn and soybean oils.

Oils can be added to dips and dressings, and they can also be used in preparing your favorite sautéed or baked goods.


Besides nuts, seeds can also make a good go-to snack that is high in filling fiber, protein, and unsaturated fat.

Sesame seeds are higher in monounsaturated fats, whereas pumpkin, sunflower, flax, and chia seeds are higher in polyunsaturated fats.

Seeds can be included in your sides, in your cereal, or as a topper for yogurt or salads. Choose unsalted varieties, or be mindful of salt content so you don't consume too much sodium.

Eggs Too? Really?

It's true that eggs contain saturated and unsaturated fats. However, when they are prepared without frying, they are considered a healthy addition to your diet.

Dark Chocolate

Chocolate contains a small portion of monounsaturated fats, and, in low to moderate amounts, has been considered healthy.

However, eating a lot of heavily sweetened chocolate can be high in calories and unhealthy fats, so moderation (and label reading) is key.

Are Supplements Just As Good?

Eating foods high in healthy dietary fat is the best way to get it.

Dietary supplements like cod liver oil and fish oil can help ensure you get the right amount of unsaturated fats, but they should be used in conjunction with a heart healthy diet—not as a substitute for one.

Dietary guidelines jointly published by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, recommend that 25% to 35% of your daily caloric intake should come from fat, ideally from mostly unsaturated fats.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Heart Association. Dietary Fats.

  2. Maki KC, Eren F, Cassens ME, Dicklin MR, Davidson MH. ω-6 Polyunsaturated fatty acids and cardiometabolic health: Current evidence, controversies, and research gaps. Adv Nutr. 2018 Sep 4. doi:10.1093/advances/nmy038.

  3. Harvard School of Public Health. Types of fats.

  4. Schwingshackl L, Bogensberger B, Benčič A, Knüppel S, Boeing H4, Hoffmann G3. Effects of oils and solid fats on blood lipids: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. J Lipid Res. 2018 Sep;59(9):1771-1782. doi: 10.1194/jlr.P085522.

  5.  U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition.

By Jennifer Moll, PharmD
Jennifer Moll, MS, PharmD, is a pharmacist actively involved in educating patients about the importance of heart disease prevention.