Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found in all parts of the body (including the blood) and necessary for it to work properly. Some is created by your body itself, while some comes from the food you eat.
Too much cholesterol can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease. More than half of the adult population has blood cholesterol levels higher than the desirable range. In this article we’ll discuss the importance of controlling the cholesterol intake in your diet and how to avoid high cholesterol.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol helps the body produce hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D; it moves through the bloodstream to be used by all parts of the body.
You might have heard that not all cholesterol is bad. According to the American Heart Association, LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, can clog your arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes. HDL, or “good” cholesterol, works in reverse by protecting against heart disease.
Too much cholesterol in the body can lead to gradual build-up of fat in the arteries. Over time, this can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease; the risk is particularly high if you have a high level of LDL cholesterol and a low level of HDL cholesterol.
Your total cholesterol level should be less than 200 mg/dL
Tips for lowering high cholesterol levels
Dietary cholesterol is found in eggs, dairy products, meat, and poultry. Egg yolks and organ meats (such as liver) are high in cholesterol; fish generally contains less cholesterol, with the exception of some shellfish that are high in cholesterol.
To lower your blood’s cholesterol levels, follow these guidelines:
Limit your fat intake to 25 – 35% of your total daily calories.
In particular, limit your intake of saturated fats (no more than 7%), as eating a lot of saturated fat can further increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Reduce the amount of dietary cholesterol to 200 mg or less per day.
Eat more fiber, including soluble fiber.
Eat oily fish at least once a week; they are a good source of omega-3 fats, that can help to reduce fatty deposits in the blood.
Engage in physical activity; try brisk walks, cycling, running or dancing for at least thirty minutes, five days a week.
Foods to avoid high cholesterol
You can help prevent high cholesterol by eating a healthy, balanced diet that is low in saturated fat.
Foods of plant origin (vegetables, fruits, grains, cereals, nuts, and seeds) contain no cholesterol, so you’ll find an abundance of plant foods in the list. Furthermore, vegetable fats contain higher percentages of “good” cholesterol that can help to balance the negative impact of “bad” cholesterol. For example:
unsaturated vegetable oil (olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil)
nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds)
When looking at animal foods, the following are a good choice for avoiding high cholesterol:
The following foods and food groups should be avoided, as they can increase your cholesterol levels:
saturated vegetable oil (coconut oil, palm oil)
trans fats or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (they can be found in hard margarines, crackers, cookies, chips, shortenings and more)
fatty or processed meats (such as corned beef, pastrami, hot dogs, bacon, hamburgers, and so on)
fried foods, as they are high in both total fat and saturated fat
British Heart Foundation, “High Cholesterol”, http://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/conditions/high-cholesterol.aspx
Harvard School of Public Health, “Fats and Cholesterol – The Bottom Line”,http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-full-story/index.html
Mayo Clinic, “Cholesterol: Top 5 foods to lower your numbers”, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cholesterol/CL00002
The New York Times Health Guide, “Cholesterol”,http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/nutrition/cholesterol/overview.html