Cholesterol, which is found in your body’s cells, is a substance that is waxy and looks like fat. It plays an important role in food digestion and making hormones and Vitamin D. The two types of cholesterols are the LDL or low-density lipoproteins, also known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol and HDL or high-density lipoproteins, called the ‘good’ cholesterol. The consequences of having high LDL levels or high blood cholesterol levels are serious as they may lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, resulting in heart attacks, strokes and coronary heart disease.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NLHBI), the recommended goal for LDL should range from 100 mg/dl to 160 mg/dl. However, this depends on other health problems present as well as whether you are in the low, moderate or high risk category.
Many factors such as nutrition, lifestyle, hereditary, gender and age may contribute to high blood cholesterol levels. While some of these factors are uncontrollable, one of the main causes within your control is your diet since some foods are high in cholesterol, saturated fats and Trans fatty acids or Trans fats. If you have a high blood cholesterol problem, understanding and knowing the foods that may raise your LDL is a good step in managing this health condition. Avoiding or limiting the foods that are high in cholesterol is recommended to help lower and control your elevated cholesterol problem.
Foods High in Cholesterol
Many of the foods that are high in cholesterol are from animal sources and they may include:
As one of the popular breakfast and baking items, whole eggs offer many good nutrients but eating too many may raise your cholesterol levels. It is recommended that you eat one egg daily and use egg whites and other egg substitutes if you need to add more.
Foods that are high in saturated fats and that cause raised levels of cholesterol are usually fatty cuts of meat, dairy and some oils. They include:
- Meats cuts with high fat content – the tenderloin, brisket, porterhouse and top loin and steak cuts such as the rib eye and flank;
- Processed meats – salami, pastrami, hotdogs and bacon;
- Organ meats – liver, kidney, sweetbread and intestines;
- Poultry – duck and goose;
- Luncheon and canned meats.
You should avoid consuming organ meats which are extremely high in cholesterol levels and limit fatty meat cuts. Instead, eat leaner sections of beef, pork, lamb and veal as well as skinless turkey and chicken.
Dairy products such as whole milk, sour cream, ice cream, butter and lard that use full fat also have high cholesterols levels. Cheeses and yogurt made with 2% dairy fat are prime sources of LDL. Use 1% dairy, skim milk or soy and limit your consumption of whole milk.
Oils rich in saturated fats are usually the tropical types such as coconut and palm. You should use unsaturated fats and healthy oils, including olive, canola and sunflower.
Trans fats may be found in oils and fats as well as many processed foods that use these ingredients. In the process of making margarines, cooking oils and shortening, hydrogenation occurs, which leads to Trans fats or hydrogenated products. According to the American Heart Association, limiting Trans fats to 1% of total caloric consumption is recommended. If you see hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils listed in the ingredients, you should be aware that these are also Trans fats.
A significant number of baked and processed foods such as cookies, donuts, pies and muffins are prepared using shortening and margarine. During the process, hydrogenation occurs as the fats go through chemical processing. Since many baked, commercially fried and fast foods use these oils, you may be jeopardizing your health by increasing your high cholesterol levels. Instead, you should limit your consumption of fried, baked and processed foods.
Identifying Foods High in Cholesterol
Reading and understanding the nutritional information on food labels and packaging are important to recognizing ingredients that are high in cholesterol. Look out for the milligrams per serving size located below the fat content line. Other names such as hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated may be used and be careful of labels that indicate each serving has 0 grams of Trans fat but hydrogenated oils are included. If you see “cholesterol free” on the label, it usually means less than 2 mg of cholesterol with fat being less than 2 grams and “low cholesterol” refers to less than 20 mg of cholesterol and saturated fat is less than 2 grams.
Using Diet to Treat and Lower High Cholesterol Levels
As part of the lifestyle changes to help lower your cholesterol level, diet plays an important role. By avoiding certain foods high in cholesterol and following certain daily dietary guidelines you may lower your high cholesterol, enjoy a healthy diet as well as improve your overall wellbeing. The National Cholesterol Education Program and the NHLBI recommend some useful guidelines for the diet aspect of the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC). This involves low cholesterol and low saturated fat dietary plan that includes:
- Consuming fewer than 200 mg of cholesterol each day;
- Eating about 30% of calories from total fats with approximately 7% from saturated fats;
- Including plenty fruits and vegetables in your diet;
- Eating foods rich in soluble fibers such as legumes, grains and vegetables;
- Limiting the number of alcohol beverages daily to one for women or two for men.
The problem of high cholesterol is a growing concern with the increase in unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits, consumption of processed foods and eating out at fast food stores and restaurants. With heart disease and other serious health risks that high cholesterol levels may cause, addressing this issue is of utmost importance. However, if you have information on the foods that are high in cholesterol, you are better able to make wise choices regarding your dietary needs. Effective treatment for high cholesterol levels involves changing your diet even if drug therapy is recommended.