The way we act, think, and talk about monitoring cholesterol has significantly changed over the years. Foods that were once considered bad for your cholesterol are now treated differently than in the past. For instance, eggs and shellfish used to get a bad reputation because both contain higher levels of cholesterol, but when compared to things like trans fats and saturated fats the effects are minimal. In today’s post, we will discuss what types of foods to truly avoid in order to better your cholesterol levels.
First, let’s discuss cholesterol and monitoring cholesterol.
WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL?
Cholesterol is considered a type of fat that is found in your blood. Your body needs cholesterol to help your brain, skin, and organs do their job, among other things. According to the American Heart Association, your body produces all the cholesterol it needs in your liver. However, you can also get cholesterol in the foods you eat.
By additionally ingesting foods with higher levels of cholesterol, you may be overdoing it and putting yourself at risk. This can lead to health conditions such as: cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. That’s why it is so important to work with your doctor to check and monitor your cholesterol.
According to the May Clinic, adults at average risk of developing these health conditions should have their cholesterol checked every 5 years, beginning at age 18. The frequency of testing may be increased if you have abnormal results or if you are at a higher risk because of family history, are overweight, have diabetes, smoke cigarettes, or are a man older than 45 and a woman older than 55. Talk with your doctor to find out what’s best for you.
Now, let’s talk food.
WHAT SHOULD I AVOID?
In the hectic, fast-paced world we live in today, who has the time to cook every meal? Our solution is often the easiest and the fastest, but this is hurting our overall health. Many times, those grab-n-go meals are packed full of unhealthy fat, salt, sugar, and more. It’s time to work a better diet into your packed schedule by simply shopping smarter and avoiding these foods.
This is an easy one, everyone knows that fried foods are bad for you and shouldn’t be consumed regularly. Compared to other ways of cooking, deep frying adds a lot of calories by reducing water and absorbing fat.
Fried foods–such as french fries, cheese sticks, and fried chicken–should be avoided because of the high cholesterol. Consuming this type of food is unhealthy because they’re loaded with calories and many contain trans fats through the oils used to fry them. Trans fats increase the risk of heart disease, but more on this later.
If you can’t stand the thought of never eating fried food again, do so in moderation and use healthy oils such as olive oil or sunflower oil. In Spain, one study found that using these types of oils put people at less risk of heart disease when eating fried foods. Unlike the United States, where most commonly used oils contain trans and saturated fats from butter and lard. This leads us to our next food to avoid, trans fats.
2. TRANS FAT & OTHER UNHEALTHY FATS
There are numerous types of fats–some are produced in the body and others are found in food, called dietary fats. You don’t need to eliminate all fat from your diet. Some fats are good for the body and even necessary, but it’s time to start picking the healthier ones to ensure a well balanced diet. Avoid are trans fat and saturated fat!
Eating more good bad (unsaturated fat) than bad fats (trans fat and saturated fat) can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve good cholesterol levels. This is because trans fat and saturated fat actually increases the bad cholesterol levels and decreases the good. These fats can be found in a variety of products including: pastries, cookies, crackers, biscuits, breakfast sandwiches, donuts, fried fast food, and butter. These types of packaged and fried snacks should be avoided.
Note: Not all food labels clearly call out trans fat and saturated fat. The food companies are smarter and sneakier than ever and now call them hydrogenated oil and partially hydrogenated oil. Keep an eye out and always read the label!
When we talk about foods that raise cholesterol levels, we usually include products that are high in trans fats or are made from animals, but there are others to consider. One of those is sugar.
Sugar is commonly found in foods that are obvious like ice cream and cake, but “added sugar” can also be found in pasta sauces and tomato ketchup. Keep that in mind when grocery shopping! Also, don’t forget that we often times drink a lot of the calories and sugars we consume so avoid sugary drinks like soda and sweet tea.
One study found that most U.S. adults consume more sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. A higher percentage of calories from these added sugars are associated with a significantly higher risk of heart disease death due to obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses. They concluded that people who consumed more added sugar had lower levels of good cholesterol. Plus, sugar doesn’t contain any of the nutrients your body needs to survive. There’s nothing wrong with indulging every once and a while, but the effects of sugar can be hard on your heart, and thus sugar should be avoided.
Note: Sugar is not always listed as “sugar” in the ingredients. Look for corn syrup, honey, malt sugar, molasses, syrup, corn sweetener, and any words ending in “ose” (like glucose and fructose).
Sorry to burst your bubble, but not all meat is created equal. If you are worried about cholesterol, you should really talk to your doctor about what types of meat and how much are best for you. Think lean cut!
Meat tends to contain unhealthy fats such as saturated fat like we discussed earlier. This can increase bad cholesterol levels and lead to other negative health effects. Meat with visible strips of fat or skin are not good choices for your cholesterol levels. Try to reduce the amount of meat in your diet, but don’t think you have to completely cut it out. When you do eat meat, trim off any visible fat and remove the skin, but remember to always choose the leaner choice. For example, chicken and turkey breasts without the skin or a pork tenderloin.
5. FULL-FAT DAIRY
Often times people don’t realize how much saturated fat they ingest from milk products such as whole milk and whole-fat yogurt. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services advise people to avoid full-fat dairy due to its impact on cholesterol levels.
The saturated fats found in these types of products are known to raise the levels of bad cholesterol in our bodies. Over time, this high level of bad cholesterol may lead to deadly heart conditions such as heart disease.
However it is important to note that there are new studies out there claiming that dairy isn’t as bad for us as we once thought. The jury is still out, but remember everything in moderation.
Change is never easy. Making drastic changes only leads to failure and disappointment. We recommend implementing smaller steps when working towards your overall goal. For instance, don’t try to change your entire diet overnight, implement smaller changes more compatible with your lifestyle and food preferences. Here are a few quick tips for monitoring your cholesterol levels with food:
- Decrease portion size of meat rather than cutting it out completely
- Shift to low-fat and non-fat dairy products if you are used to full-fat dairy
- Avoid trans fat and reduce saturated fat
- Don’t forget to move it, move it–physical activity is essential to your health
Now, go out there and make changes! You deserve it!