If you’re in your 20s or 30s, you probably don't think you need to worry about your cholesterol just yet. But that's a misconception: Actually, cholesterol should be a routine part of your next physical exam: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 30 million adults in the US have cholesterol levels that could be considered high.
High cholesterol can lead to serious health issues. Megan Wong, RD, a nutritionist with AlgaeCal says, high cholesterol “can lead to plaque buildup in arteries, reducing blood flow and increasing the risk for heart attacks and strokes.”
If you’ve been informed that you have high cholesterol, it's never too late to take action—and the first thing to do is to get a solid understanding of your results. The level of total cholesterol is made up of both HDL and LDL cholesterol, along with triglycerides. HDL is considered a helpful cholesterol. Ava Williams, MD, a board-certified Internal Medicine physician says, “HDL brings back cholesterol from the bloodstream to your liver for disposal.” So it’s good to have high levels of HDL. But if your LDL level is high, you’ve got some work to do. “High levels of LDL in the blood can cause cholesterol cells to attach themselves to arteries, which can form plaque. That can cause blood flow restrictions that can lead to stroke and heart attack,” Williams says.
The good news? High cholesterol doesn’t automatically mean you’re doomed to a lifetime of cholesterol medications. There are lots of ways to alter your cholesterol levels simply by the food choices you make. The best diet to lower cholesterol is one that includes lots of fresh, whole foods high in antioxidants and low in saturated fat.
Another thing you might be wondering about: What are the worst foods for high cholesterol? We've got you covered with a list of the very worst things you can eat if you’re trying to keep your cholesterol levels under control. Here's everything you need to know/
What Are the Worst Foods for High Cholesterol?
Fried food should be avoided if you’re concerned about cholesterol, and fried meat is a double whammy when it comes to cholesterol since both the meat and the oil it’s fried in can have negative effects on your cholesterol levels. Leaving the skin on is even more detrimental.
For decades, shortening has been used in pastries and baked goods. But it’s full of trans fats, which are terrible for your heart. Avoid shortening by enjoying delectable baked goods sparingly, and baking at home, which allows you to substitute healthier ingredients.
Doughnuts and pastries
Full of both shortening and sugar, these yummy treats are unfortunately a great way to increase bad cholesterol in your body. Make these the exception rather than the rule in your diet.
Processed snack cakes and cookies
Made to last for long periods of time on store shelves, these foods contain dangerous ingredients like trans fats, saturated fats, and tons of sugar.
Those tubs of frosting you can buy in the store sure are good, but they’re made with palm oil, a hydrogenated oil that can increase LDL and decrease HDL cholesterol; the exact opposite of what you need. Instead, make your own frosting at home for a slightly healthier alternative. Or, skip it altogether and opt for a lighter option like whipped cream.
Fried snacks like potato chips contain lots of saturated fats, so reach for veggie chips or a baked option for a crunchy snack that’s much healthier for your heart.
All animal products contain cholesterol, with beef clocking in high on the list.
Just about everyone loves a great piece of salty, greasy bacon. But the saturated fat can be so bad for your cholesterol, that it’s best to keep it an occasional indulgence. Otherwise, opt for turkey bacon for a slightly healthier option.
Beef liver tops most lists as the food with the highest level of cholesterol. But many studies also tout many benefits of organ meats as well.
Any full-fat dairy product contains high levels of saturated fat. But recent studies have identified lots of benefits, too, prompting heavy cream to be accepted as part of the keto diet. If your cholesterol is high, however, these should be used sparingly.
Related: What is the Keto Diet?
Though it’s not quite as high as heavy cream, whole milk does contain saturated fat. Adults should opt for a lower-fat option, especially if you’re concerned about your cholesterol level.
Like several foods on this list, cheese can be a healthy food. But if you’ve received news that your cholesterol is high, consider cutting back and making high-quality cheese an occasional indulgence.
Aside from using sub-par ingredients, most fast food is made with low-quality meat with high fat content. And many menu items are fried as well, making fast food a poor option when it comes to keeping your cholesterol low.
Butter is full of saturated fat, making a plant-based substitute a great option. And many of them taste exactly like butter, so you won’t be missing a thing!
This greasy, cheesy, meaty option is clearly a cholesterol nightmare.
Pizza is one of the worst foods for cholesterol for the same reasons listed above. If you’re a pizza lover, consider switching from a supreme pizza to a lighter option, like margherita pizza. Or make it at home to skip some of that extra oil and cheese that comes with delivery pizza.
palm oil is synonymous with trans fats, and it’s in just about every packaged food you can buy. So limit your intake of packaged or processed food to cut back on the saturated and trans fats found in palm oil.
Lamb has a surprising amount of cholesterol, clocking in higher even than most cuts of beef.
A healthy food and a great way to add protein to your diet, eggs unfortunately also have super high levels of cholesterol; one of the highest among any food. “Take note that not all foods high in cholesterol, such as eggs, are bad for our health,” says Williams. If you want to health benefits of eggs without harming your cholesterol, try eating them in moderation—maybe one or two a week.
You might think seafood would be a good alternative to beef or chicken, but squid actually has high levels of cholesterol. That makes your fried calamari appetizer a double whammy for your cholesterol levels.
Organ meats are notoriously high in cholesterol, with chicken livers clocking in near the top.
Red meat gets a bad rap, but studies show that white meat contains just as much, if not more, cholesterol.
Next, here are 7 lifestyle changes you can make for a healthier heart.
Megan Wong, RD, nutritionist with AlgaeCal
Ava Williams, MD, board-certified Internal Medicine physician
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: High Cholesterol Facts
Journal of Nutrition: "Corn Oil Lowers Plasma Cholesterol Compared with Coconut Oil in Adults with Above-Desirable Levels of Cholesterol in a Randomized Crossover Trial"
New England Journal of Medicine: :Effects of different forms of dietary hydrogenated fats on serum lipoprotein cholesterol levels"
UCSF Health: Cholesterol Content of Foods
PLoS One: "Fast Food Intake Increases the Incidence of Metabolic Syndrome in Children and Adolescents: Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study"
PLoS One:"Systematic review of palm oil consumption and the risk of cardiovascular disease"
Harvard Medical School: When it comes to cholesterol levels, white meat may be no better than red meat—and plant-based protein beats both
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