The 8 Worst Eating Habits for Cholesterol
Having high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. Here are the eating mistakes you’re making and how to choose foods that lower cholesterol.
You’re not eating healthy fats
If your doctor says you have high cholesterol, it means the LDL reading (bad cholesterol) is building up and may cause blockages in your arteries. A healthy cholesterol reading from a blood test is less than 200 mg/dL. “While it used to be thought that eating cholesterol-rich foods would raise blood cholesterol levels, we now know that consuming too many saturated fats and not enough unsaturated, heart-healthy fats is what actually affects blood cholesterol levels the most,” says Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, LDN, host of Cooking with Sarah-Jane. Eating foods that contain monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats can help prevent and manage high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing “good” HDL cholesterol levels, says Bedwell. Drizzle some olive oil or sunflower oil on salads and veggies since both are good sources of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Learn the signs you’re not getting enough of these good fats in your diet.
You choose the fattiest steak on the menu
Guilty of always ordering the T-bone or rib eye? Swap those foods high in cholesterol out for a cut of beef that’s better for your heart. To reduce the level of saturated fats you consume, look for lean cuts of meat, suggests Bedwell. She says there are 38 cuts of beef that are lean—key words to look for include “loin,” “sirloin,” or “round.” If you’re cooking steak at home, trim off as much fat as you can before cooking, and pour off the melted fat after cooking. Baking, broiling, stewing, and grilling are healthier ways to prepare meats. It’s also a good idea to avoid organ meat (like liver and kidney), which tend to be high in cholesterol. Here are some other ways to lower your cholesterol and fight heart disease.
You skip fish
Certain types of fish—like salmon, mackerel, trout, and herring—contain higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, “good fats” that don’t affect LDL cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fatty acids also help to increase “good” cholesterol, reducing your triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood, and reducing blood pressure, according to mayoclinic.org. Aim to eat a 3.5-ounce serving of fish at least twice per week, preferably those higher in omega-3 fatty acids. Ask for salmon as the protein on your salad at lunch or grill up a salmon burger when you’re barbecuing this season. (Hate fish? Try these omega-3 rich foods instead.)
Your only source of dairy is the milk in your coffee
Increasing the amount of calcium in your diet can increase HDL “good” cholesterol and decrease total and LDL cholesterol concentrations, according to research. Dairy products are the richest source of calcium with hard cheese having the highest concentration levels. Incorporate low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt as part of your meals and snacks. Check out these other simple, medicine-free ways to lower your cholesterol.
You love fried foods, baked goods, and packaged foods
Many of these foods contain trans fats, which can increase bad cholesterol levels and lower good cholesterol levels. While you can search for “trans fats” on the nutrition label, according to U.S. labeling rules, if a food contains less than 0.5 grams per serving, it can be labeled as 0 on the packaging. So even if you eat three servings of a food that is “trans-fat free” you could still be consuming them. The phrase “partially hydrogenated oils” will appear in the ingredient list if a food contains trans fat, says Bedwell. Common culprits that contain trans fats include baked goods (like cookies and cakes), snack foods (like microwave popcorn), fried foods, and margarine. Instead of eating these foods high in cholesterol, you’re better off making baked goods at home. Try swapping out oils and margarine in recipes for unsweetened applesauce or mashed bananas. Here are some other foods that you’ll be surprised to learn are packed with trans fats.
Your diet lacks soluble fiber
If your LDL levels are already high, eating foods rich in this type of fiber, such as beans, lentils, whole grains, oats, fruits, and veggies can help to lower your levels. These foods bind to cholesterol and remove it from your body, says Bedwell. Add fruits and vegetables to every meal and snack, top salads with beans, and start your morning off with whole oats. Here are some more easy ways to sneak more fiber into your diet.
You think protein shakes are just for CrossFit fanatics
Not just the choice of bodybuilders after an intense lifting session, whey protein may have some of the same health benefits of dairy, according to mayoclinic.org. When study subjects consumed whey protein as a supplement, it lowered both LDL and total cholesterol. Look for whey protein powder in supplement stores, Whole Foods, drug stores, and online.
You toast more than most
Drinking too much alcohol can raise your cholesterol. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women only one. And better cholesterol is only one of the many good things that’ll happen to your body if you cut back on alcohol. Instead of foods high in cholesterol, here are some of the foods you should eat instead.