High-Cholesterol Foods to Eat and Avoid
High cholesterol foods are those that contain high levels of cholesterol. These foods can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other conditions. Cholesterol is a type of fat that our body needs to function properly but too much can be dangerous. The foods that are high in cholesterol can be found in animal products such as eggs, meat, and dairy.
This section is about the foods that should be eaten and those that should be avoided if you have high cholesterol. You should avoid or limit the amount of high-cholesterol foods you eat. Not all cholesterol-rich foods are bad for you.
What is cholesterol, and is it unhealthy?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in every cell of the body. It is made up of lipoproteins, which are small particles that carry cholesterol and other lipids throughout the bloodstream.
Cholesterol is a type of fat called a lipid. It helps build cell walls and create hormones and vitamin D. When cholesterol builds up in our arteries, it can lead to heart disease or stroke. But too little cholesterol can also be bad for us because it can lead to low levels of vitamin D, which can cause bone problems or even depression.
Cholesterol can be healthy or unhealthy depending on how it affects you and your overall health. A healthy cholesterol level ranges from 150-200 mg/dL, while an unhealthy cholesterol level ranges from 250-400 mg/dL.
LDL is often referred to as “bad cholesterol” because it’s associated with plaque buildup in your arteries, while HDL (“good cholesterol”) helps excrete excess cholesterol from your body.
When you consume extra cholesterol, your body compensates by reducing the amount that it naturally makes. In contrast, when dietary cholesterol intake is low, your body increases cholesterol production to ensure that there’s always enough of this vital substance.
High-cholesterol foods to eat:
Here are 7 high cholesterol foods that are incredibly nutritious.
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. They also happen to be high in cholesterol, with 1 large egg (50 grams) delivering 207 mg of cholesterol. Research has shown that eating 1–3 eggs per day is perfectly safe for healthy people.
People often avoid eggs out of fear that they may cause blood levels of cholesterol to skyrocket. However, research shows that eggs don’t raise cholesterol levels and that eating whole eggs may boost heart-protective HDL (good) cholesterol.
Aside from being rich in cholesterol, eggs are an excellent source of highly absorbable protein and beneficial nutrients such as selenium, vitamin A, and several B vitamins.
Shellfish includes clams, crab and shrimp, which are an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, iron and selenium. They’re also high in cholesterol. For example, a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of canned shrimp provides 214 mg of cholesterol.
Additionally, shellfish contain bioactive components, such as carotenoid antioxidants and the amino acid taurine, which help prevent heart disease and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Older research indicates that people who eat more seafood exhibit lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis than those who eat less seafood.
Sardines are loaded with nutrients, and they’re a tasty, convenient protein source. You can add them to a wide variety of dishes.
One 3.75-ounce (92-gram) serving of these tiny fish contains 131 mg of cholesterol, plus 63% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin D, 137% of the DV for vitamin B12, and 35% of the DV for calcium.
What’s more, sardines are an excellent source of iron, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, magnesium, and vitamin E.
4. Pasture-Raised Steak
Pasture-raised steak is a type of beef that is raised on pasture and fed with grass, hay, and silage. The meat has a richer flavor, juicier texture, and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than conventional beef.
Pasture-raised steak is the new trend in the food industry. It has been gaining popularity in recent years because of its health benefits and superior flavor.
Pasture-raised steak is packed with protein, as well as important vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, and iron. It’s lower in cholesterol than feedlot beef and contains significantly more omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. A 4-ounce (113-gram) serving of pasture-raised steak packs about 62 mg of cholesterol.
Although processed meat, such as bacon, sausage, ham, and most deli meats has a clear association with heart disease, several large population studies have found no association between red meat intake and heart disease risk.
5. Organ meat
Cholesterol rich organ meats such as heart, kidney, and liver are highly nutritious. For example, chicken heart is an excellent source of the powerful antioxidant CoQ10, as well as vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. It’s also high in cholesterol, with a 1-cup (145-gram) serving providing 351 mg.
Moderate intake of unprocessed meat, including organ meats, will have a lower risk of heart disease than those with the lowest consumption.
Avocados are a potent source of nutrients as well as monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Research suggests that adding an avocado a day to a heart-healthy diet can help improve LDL cholesterol levels in people who are overweight or obese.
People tend to be most familiar with avocados in guacamole, which usually is eaten with high-fat corn chips. Try adding avocado slices to salads and sandwiches or eating them as a side dish. Also try guacamole with raw cut vegetables, such as cucumber slices.
Replacing saturated fats, such as those found in meats, with MUFAs is part of what makes the Mediterranean diet heart healthy.
7. Olive oil
You can use olive oil as a substitute for other fats in your diet. You can saute vegetables in olive oil, add it to a marinade or mix it with vinegar as a salad dressing. You can also use olive oil as a substitute for butter when basting meat or as a dip for bread.
High-cholesterol foods to avoid:
While certain cholesterol-rich foods are highly nutritious and beneficial to your health, others can be harmful. Here are 5 high cholesterol foods that are best to limit or avoid.
1. Fried foods
Fried foods like deep-fried meats and cheese sticks are high in cholesterol and should be avoided whenever possible.
That’s because they’re high in calories and may contain trans fats, which can increase heart disease risk and be detrimental to your health in many other ways. High intake of fried foods has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
2. Fast food
Fast-food intake is a major risk factor for numerous chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Those who frequently eat fast food tend to have higher cholesterol, more belly fat, higher levels of inflammation, and impaired blood sugar regulation.
Eating fewer processed foods and cooking more meals at home is associated with lower body weight, less body fat, and reductions in heart disease risk factors such as high LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Cookies, cakes, ice cream, pastries, and other sweets tend to be high in cholesterol, as well as added sugars, unhealthy fats, and calories.
Frequently consuming these foods may negatively affect health and lead to weight gain over time.
Research has linked added sugar intake to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mental decline, and certain cancers. Plus, these foods are often devoid of the nutrients your body needs to thrive, such as vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats.
4. Processed Meats
Processed meats, such as sausages, bacon, and hot dogs are usually made from fatty cuts of beef or pork, are high cholesterol foods that you should limit in your diet. High intake of these foods is linked to increased rates of heart disease and certain cancers, such as colon cancer.
If you must eat processed meat, choose minimally processed sausage or deli meat made from lean turkey or chicken.
5. Full-fat Dairy
Whole milk, butter and full-fat yogurt and cheese are high in saturated fat. Cheese also tends to be high in sodium. Limit cheese to about 3 ounces per week, and choose part-skim cheese such as Swiss or mozzarella when cooking.
Drink skim (non-fat), 1% or 2% milk to get your calcium intake. Look for non-fat or low-fat yogurt varieties. Use extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil instead of butter.
Healthy Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol Levels
Having high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol may lead to cholesterol buildup in your blood vessels, which may increase your risk of heart disease. Certain lifestyle and dietary changes can reduce LDL levels and create a more favorable LDL-to-HDL ratio.
Here are healthy, evidence-based ways to lower your cholesterol levels:
- Eat more fiber. Research shows that eating more fiber — especially soluble fiber found in fruits, beans, and oats — may help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
- Increase physical activity. Becoming more physically active is an excellent way to lower your cholesterol levels. High intensity aerobic exercise seems to be the most effective way to reduce LDL.
- Lose weight. Losing excess body weight is one of the best ways to lower your cholesterol levels. It can reduce LDL while increasing HDL, which is optimal for health.
- Cut back on unhealthy habits. Quitting unhealthy habits such as smoking can significantly reduce LDL levels. Smoking raises LDL cholesterol levels and greatly increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, and emphysema.
- Eat more produce. Research shows that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and are less likely to develop heart disease than those who eat fewer of these foods.
Trying just a few of the above suggestions may significantly reduce cholesterol levels and lead to other health benefits, such as weight loss and improved dietary habits.
Cholesterol-rich foods aren’t created equal. While some, such as eggs and full-fat yogurt, are nutritious, others may harm your health.
Though it’s safe for most people to enjoy the healthy cholesterol-rich foods listed above, everyone should try to limit unhealthy high cholesterol foods such as fried foods, desserts, and processed meats.
Remember, just because a food is high in cholesterol doesn’t mean it can’t fit into a balanced diet.
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