People with high cholesterol have twice the risk of developing heart disease as those with normal cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Making changes to your diet is the first step in gaining control over your numbers, and that means limiting your intake of foods that raise cholesterol. Consult your doctor or dietitian to discuss your diet for lowering cholesterol.
Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones and vitamin D, but your body produces enough cholesterol to meet your needs. Saturated and trans fats in food increase cholesterol production in your liver and cause your body to produce too much cholesterol. This excess cholesterol travels in your blood and sticks to your artery walls, which leads to narrowing of the arteries, possible blockage and an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
The cholesterol that sticks to your artery walls is known as the bad cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is the good cholesterol that helps remove the LDL cholesterol from your arteries. Triglycerides are another type of fat found in your blood, and high levels are also associated with an increased risk of clogged arteries.
Keeping your saturated fat intake to 5 percent to 6 percent of daily calories can help lower cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. On a 2,000-calorie diet, that means no more than 100 calories to 120 calories from saturated, or 11 grams to 13 grams of saturated fat a day.
Foods high in saturated fat include fatty meats such as bacon and marbled red meats, chicken and turkey skin, butter, lard, cheese and whole and lowfat milk. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the top source of saturated fat in the U.S. diet is cheese from foods such as pizza.
Trans fats naturally occur in some foods, such as meat and dairy, but most of the trans fats in your diet come from processed foods filled with hydrogenated oils. Trans fats are especially bad for people with high cholesterol because they not only raise your bad cholesterol but also lower the good cholesterol, says the AHA.
Keeping your daily intake of trans fat as low as possible is a recommendation for better cholesterol. Processed foods such as frozen pizza, baked goods, fried foods and crackers are the primary source of trans fats in the diet. Stick margarine and other spreads are also a source of trans fats. Read the food label and the ingredients list to help you identify trans fat-free foods. Avoid foods with the words "partially hydrogenated oils" in the ingredients list.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, cholesterol in food doesn't have as much of an impact on the cholesterol in your body as previously believed. In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee relaxed recommendations to limit foods containing dietary cholesterol. Whether or not you need to continue to limit your intake of foods high in cholesterol, such as eggs and shellfish, depends on other factors that affect your health, such as diabetes, the Cleveland Clinic goes on to say. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about cholesterol in your diet.
While you should avoid the foods that raise your cholesterol numbers, you can replace those foods with healthier choices that may actually help improve your cholesterol. A healthy diet to lower cholesterol should include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lowfat dairy, skinless poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds and legumes.
The fiber in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and nuts may help lower blood cholesterol. The AHA also recommends that you eat fatty fish, such as salmon and herring, twice a week for heart health.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Cholesterol Fact Sheet
- American Heart Association: About Cholesterol
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Is Cholesterol?
- American Heart Association: Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
- American Heart Association: The American Heart Association's Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations
- The American Heart Association: Saturated Fat
- Harvard School of Public Health: Top Food Sources of Saturated Fat in the U.S.
- American Heart Association: Trans Fat
- Cleveland Clinic: Why You Should No Longer Worry About Cholesterol in Food
- Harvard Medical School: 11 Foods That Lower Cholesterol