Blood cholesterol levels play a major role in your overall health, so it’s important to keep them in check. One way to maintain a healthy cholesterol balance is to watch what you eat.

Some studies show a correlation between a diet high in saturated fat and higher levels of LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol. This may increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Sources of saturated fats include:

  • red meat
  • some pork and chicken products
  • dairy products like butter and cheese

Unsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats and can improve your cholesterol levels. Foods that contain unsaturated fats include:

  • avocado
  • olives
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • certain fish, such as salmon

Eating healthy unsaturated fats, like those found in salmon, has been shown to improve cholesterol levels. In fact, fish provides a high-protein, healthy alternative to red meat, which is high in saturated fats. Salmon is a great alternative to red meat because it’s a nutrient-dense food that can help raise good cholesterol levels. Plus, it’s tasty!

An average 3-ounce fillet of cooked Atlantic salmon contains 23 grams of protein and 6 grams of fat, most of which is healthy unsaturated fat. It’s also high in vitamins D, B-12, and B-6, and is a good source of magnesium, niacin, omega-3 fatty acids, and selenium.

Here are some tasty recipes that incorporate salmon and other nourishing ingredients that can help uphold good cholesterol levels and improve heart health.

Garlic honey ginger glazed salmon with broccoli

Once the salmon marinates in the flavorful glaze, this flavorful recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction cooks up in under 35 minutes — and has a great nutritional profile.

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Thai baked salmon

This recipe fuses sockeye salmon with traditional Thai flavors for a truly tasty piece of fish. Going Lo-Co also discusses which types of salmon are farmed and not farmed.

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Smoked salmon and avocado tartine

Gather avocado, capers, naan, and more for this healthy recipe from Savory Simple that’s packed with great flavor and texture.

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Salmon and summer veggies in foil

Salmon, meet grill. This salmon from Cooking Classy heats up right on the grill in the aluminum foil (and makes for an easy cleanup).

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Cholesterol travels in our bodies in lipoproteins, which are protein-covered fats. There are two main types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Maintaining healthy levels of both types of cholesterol is vital for health.

High levels of LDL (known as “bad” cholesterol) can build up in arteries of the body. HDL is referred to as the “good” kind of cholesterol because it takes cholesterol from other parts of the body to your liver, which removes cholesterol from your body and helps manage it.

If an artery is inflamed, the body uses a combination of LDL cholesterol, fats, and calcium, among other substances, to form plaque. Plaque can build up on the artery walls and cause a narrowing of the arteries. This can limit the flow of blood to and from your heart and brain. If the plaque ruptures, the body works to clot the rupture, which may lead to a blocked artery. The end result could be a heart attack or stroke.

Know your cholesterol levels

Simple blood tests can help keep tabs on your cholesterol levels. Here’s how to interpret the results:

  • High cholesterol: 240 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and above
  • Borderline high: 200–239 mg/dL
  • Desirable level: Less than 200 mg/dL

When it comes to improving your heart health and your cholesterol levels, salmon is a great choice. Unlike red meat, salmon is a good source of healthy unsaturated fats that can benefit your cholesterol. It’s also packed with protein and nutrients. So the next time you’re tempted to grill a steak or order a rack of ribs, try a salmon fillet instead.