Hypercholesterolemia is a prevalent condition in the US. Two in five adult Americans have the illness, which increases their risk of heart attack and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A waxy molecule called cholesterol moves through your bloodstream. On its own, it’s not always harmful because cholesterol is necessary for the body to produce hormones and new cells. However, too much of it can lead serious issues. Dr. Eleonora Avenatti, a preventive cardiologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, stated that the primary cause of atherosclerosis, or “the build-up of junk inside your vessels,” is excessive blood cholesterol.
“If you think about your vessel as pipes that have to bring blood to your internal organs — your heart, your brain, your kidneys — over time, [cholesterol] can create junk inside those pipes so that the blood flow is not as good as it should be. Then that can create situations such as heart attacks and strokes and kidney dysfunction,” Avenatti said.
Your doctor will prescribe a blood test, called a lipid panel, to measure your cholesterol. You can be offered medication or advised to make lifestyle modifications like diet and exercise if your cholesterol is high.
Food is the first and most obvious place to start. Certain meals, according to experts, can affect your cholesterol levels and increase your chance of the negative outcomes listed above.
Experts list items to stay away from if you have high cholesterol below, along with a few other things that might be even more crucial than what you eat.
Dairy Products With Full Fat
Dairy products with full fats have a high content of saturated fat, which is detrimental for low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the “bad” cholesterol.
“Saturated fat can actually decrease your body’s ability to clear out … the bad cholesterol,” explained Beth Auguste, a registered dietician in Philadelphia and owner of Be Well with Beth. “Your bad cholesterol goes to your liver to get cleaned up and that’s how you remove some of the cholesterol in your body. That saturated fat impacts your liver because it makes it so that you can’t break down the bad cholesterol as much.”
Since there are certain health advantages to dairy, you can lessen this specific problem by using lower-fat dairy products in your diet whenever you can.
According to Michelle Routhenstein, a preventive cardiology dietician at EntirelyNourished.com, “choose fat-free dairy products like yogurt and kefir to reduce saturated fat intake while still obtaining essential heart-healthy nutrients like magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D,” she wrote to HuffPost via email.
Auguste also mentioned that you can top fat-free dairy products like yogurt or cottage cheese with almonds or chia seeds to add healthy, unsaturated fats. Auguste remarked, “That gives you the healthy fat to go along with the dairy protein.”
You probably already know that those with high cholesterol shouldn’t eat red meat, such as lamb, hog, or beef. Why? Red meat contains a lot of saturated fat, which, as was already noted, makes it difficult for the body to process cholesterol, according to Auguste.
This is not to say that you should never, ever consume red meat, but people who have high cholesterol should carefully monitor how much they eat.
“Honestly, in general, you should be using your meat more as the garnish with the meals and then having beans as another way of getting protein, having high-protein grains, like quinoa or lentils … as a way of supplementing the protein and the iron and the fiber in your meal,” Auguste said.
Meat With Skin on It
Auguste also found that meat skins contain a lot of saturated fat. She pointed out that this applies to the skin of any meat, including pig, turkey, and chicken skins from rinds.
“Opt for lean sources of protein such as poultry without the skin, fish, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas) and tofu. These protein sources are lower in saturated fat and can help maintain muscle mass while promoting heart health,” Routhenstein said.
Auguste added that it’s crucial to search for skinless ground meats as well.
Excessively Processed Meals
“What we’ve been learning more and more is that staying away from processed food is probably the best way to go,” Avenatti said.
Minimally processed meals, such as boxed salads and bagged dry beans, are not the problem here, even though many foods are treated in some way. On the other hand, highly processed meals like chips and smoked sausage ought to make you stop.
“They are usually also high in unhealthy fats and salt and low in fiber, vitamins and minerals, which is a detrimental combination from a cardiovascular health standpoint,” according to Avenatti.
“If my patients are craving that meaty feeling, please go for the steak by all means. But something that is so processed, like a sausage, that really doesn’t have any more [of] that nutritional balance that was present in the primordial meat, that is something you should probably stay away from,” Avenatti said.
“For these reasons, a diet rich in ultra-processed foods is recommended against by all major [cardiovascular] societies that recommend instead a ‘whole food’ approach,” she noted.
In a similar vein, Routhenstein suggests avoiding fried foods if your cholesterol is high. Trans fats, which are present in fried foods, have the potential to raise your levels of bad cholesterol and raise your risk of heart disease in general.
According to the Mayo Clinic, this includes both sweet and non-sweet fried meals including french fries, doughnuts, and fried chicken. Check the ingredients label for partly hydrogenated oils to see if the item you’re eating includes trans fats.
Additional Strategies to Put Your Heart Health First
Avenatti remarked, “I would be happy to tell you that it all depends on the food we eat.” “Unfortunately, that is really not the case. While some cholesterol is present in the food we eat, the majority of the cholesterol in our blood is created by our own bodies.”
More than food choices, Avenatti clarified, genetics and our bodies’ coping mechanisms with cholesterol determine individual diversity.
“We like to talk more about patterns just because no food is absolutely damaging. I think eating in moderation … is still the key,” she said.
A rare steak or burger is not as significant as what you eat most of the time. Furthermore, you probably won’t harm yourself if your diet consists solely of processed and fried foods.
“[One-off food choices are] really less impactful than what people think as long as you remain within a reasonable diet,” she said.
But food choices are especially crucial for those with elevated triglycerides. High triglycerides, which are also assessed when your cholesterol is checked, are more closely linked to what you consume, Says Avenatti.
“Processed food, fried food, butter, any sort of shortening, full-fat dairy, cheeses ― those are all things that are going to impact for sure your triglyceride levels, and that we see a lot more being directly impacted by diet,” she said.
Refined carbs can also have an effect on elevated triglycerides, Auguste continued. Thus, you should consider adding fiber to your diet if you consume a lot of white bread, white spaghetti, or fiber-free crackers since this will lower your blood triglyceride levels.
Auguste continued, “This could entail switching to a chickpea or lentil pasta or combining white beans with your pasta.”
Medication may also be required for some individuals in order to reduce cholesterol. As previously indicated, diet changes alone cannot significantly affect your cholesterol levels; genetics plays a significant effect.
Avenatti emphasized that there are alternative medical choices available, even if many people express dissatisfaction with the negative effects of statins, which are drugs that decrease cholesterol. Avenatti advised seeing your doctor to find out why they recommended the medicine in the first place and to seek about alternatives if you have been prescribed a prescription for high cholesterol but either don’t use it or don’t like its effects.
All things considered, it’s critical to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and, if needed, medication management.
Avenatti suggests following the Life’s Essential 8 guidelines from the American Heart Association to maintain good cardiovascular health. A variety of healthy lifestyle treatments, such as nutrition, exercise, sleep, and giving up tobacco smoking, are combined in these suggestions.