Ah, cholesterol. First, studies report it is bad for us and should be avoided at all costs. Then studies show our bodies need cholesterol to carry out daily functions. With all the information floating around out there about “good cholesterol,” “bad cholesterol,” “trans fat” this and “low fat” that, it can be difficult to keep track of what you should and should not be eating. The truth is, your body does need cholesterol for the health of cell membranes, synthesis of hormones, and production of bile acids. Your liver creates the cholesterol your body needs. However, many of the delicious foods you may enjoy can also contain cholesterol. Here is a list of 15 foods that are bad for your cholesterol levels, and tips on how to replace them with healthier choices.
While a thick, juicy steak can be a real treat, your arteries may not thank you for indulging. It is helpful to understand that cholesterol is measured by your HDL cholesterol levels, LDL cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. When there is too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your blood, this waxy substance can build up in your arteries. This causes atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This, in turn, can lead to heart disease or heart attack. Unfortunately, red meat is one culprit in the increase of LDL levels in the blood. For special occasions when nothing but a steak will do, skip the ribeye or T-bone and choose leaner cuts of beef such as sirloin.
The type of fat found in beef, poultry, and dairy products is called saturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends that individuals with high cholesterol levels limit their intake of saturated fats to less than 6% of their daily calories. For the average person, that comes to about 13 grams of saturated fat daily. This is the amount of saturated fat found in just one fast food double cheeseburger! If you love the taste of a hamburger, you can indulge yourself by occasionally grilling or broiling a lean beef patty at home. Better yet, try grilling a delicious portobello mushroom for a hearty, meaty flavor without the saturated fat.
13. Fried Chicken
While chicken is a good source of lean protein, frying up your chicken, especially with the skin on, packs on extra cholesterol. Trans fatty acids are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils in industry in order to make them solid. These fats, frequently found in fried foods, are also called partially hydrogenated oils. The American Heart Association recommends completely eliminating these fats from your diet. For healthy yet tasty chicken, remove the skin and roast the chicken in the oven rather than frying it in a pan. Brush with olive oil and spices for added flavor.
12. French Fries and Chips
Like fried chicken, french fries and chips contain the partially hydrogenated oils that raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol. While trans fatty acids should be eliminated from your diet and saturated fats should be limited, the unsaturated fatty acids found in fish and liquid vegetable oils increase the HDL (good cholesterol) in your bloodstream. The reason HDL is so beneficial is that it removes the excess LDL from your cells. Replace french fries and chips that contain partially hydrogenated oils with veggies brushed with olive oil and roasted in your oven. Olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, and safflower oil all contain the unsaturated fatty acids that improve your HDL.
The shortening that makes baked goods so flaky and fried chicken so delicious is made from vegetable oils that have been hydrogenated. The process of hydrogenation turns the liquid oils into a more solid state. Hydrogenated oils are full of the trans fats that are so bad for your cholesterol. Replace the shortening in recipes for muffins or breads with applesauce or mashed banana. Look for soft tub margarine containing no trans fat to use in place of shortening in pie crusts or pastries. Avoid foods typically fried in shortening or oil and roast them with heart-healthy olive or canola oil in your oven.
10. Commercial Baked Goods
The muffins at your local grocery store or bakery are likely made with hydrogenated oils and trans fats. At home, you can bake delicious muffins and brownies using fruit purees in place of shortening or oil. Swap out oil for an equal amount of applesauce in most recipes. Experiment with applesauce in muffins, quick breads, waffles, and oatmeal cookies. Try zucchini in brownies. Used mashed banana in place of oil in muffins or breads.
A base of dough loaded with gooey cheese, fatty pepperoni or sausage, and accompanied with a side of breadsticks can wreak havoc on your cholesterol. Fortunately, there are so many pizza choices available that you can still enjoy this favorite dish if you choose wisely. Order a thin crust pizza pie with half the cheese and you should be able to keep the level of saturated fats well below the daily recommended maximum. Load your pizza with veggies for fiber and heart-healthy antioxidants. Limit yourself to two slices and enjoy this treat guilt-free.
8. Microwave Popcorn
It’s so handy to pop a bag of popcorn in the microwave and three minutes later have a bowlful of buttery-tasting kernels ready to go. However, microwave popcorn comes steeped in hydrogenated oils and other chemicals. To enjoy the healthy whole-grain benefits of popcorn, air pop your kernels and eat it plain. For added flavor, spritz with olive oil and sprinkle on some spices. Or drizzle with melted bittersweet chocolate chips for a chocolatey flavor. Sprinkle on some nutritional yeast for the taste of cheesy goodness without the cheese.
7. Macaroni and Cheese
Every kid’s favorite, macaroni and cheese is a homey comfort food that adults enjoy as well. Unfortunately, the cheese, butter, and milk that make the cheesy sauce so delicious contain saturated fats and cholesterol. Check out Cooking Light’s recipe for a healthier version of creamy macaroni and cheese using low-fat milk and cheese. Make your macaroni and cheese even healthier by sneaking in pureed cauliflower or zucchini and stirring in steamed broccoli.
Cheese is delicious on everything from pizza to veggies to sandwiches. Unfortunately, the National Cancer Institute warns that it is the number one food source for saturated fats in the United States. All is not lost. With so many different cheeses available, you can seek out those with lower levels of fat and cholesterol. Try substituting part-skim mozzarella, low-fat cheddar, or even low-fat cottage cheese for other cheeses in recipes. Avoid using whole-milk ricotta, full-fat cheddar, and Swiss, feta, Muenster, and processed American cheese.
5. Ice Cream
The creamy deliciousness of this frozen treat contains saturated fats and sugars that can increase your LDL. For a delicious substitute, try flash freezing chunks of banana and run it through a food processor for a bowl of creamy goodness without the saturated fats. Experiment with flavors by adding other fruits, nuts, cocoa powder or dark chocolate chips. Fruit smoothies are another refreshing substitute for ice cream.
4. Egg Yolks
There’s no doubt about it, egg yolks are high in cholesterol and can raise your LDL cholesterol. To enjoy the tasty benefits of eggs without the cholesterol, scramble up some egg whites with heart-healthy vegetables such as spinach, mushrooms, and onion.
One tablespoon of buttery goodness spread on your whole wheat toast or ear of corn is equal to half the maximum recommended daily amount of saturated fats. When possible, replace butter with the heart-healthy saturated fats found in olive, canola, or sunflower oils.
2. Red Meat
Red meats are high in saturated fats. Replace red meats in your diet with foods that are high in unsaturated fats. The omega-3 fatty acids of salmon, trout, anchovies, and herring reduce the risk of cardiac disease, heart attack, and stroke. Instead of meat, add more fiber-rich foods such as beans, broccoli, and whole grains. These foods help remove cholesterol from your body instead of increasing it.
Although high in protein, just three ounces of liver contains the maximum daily recommended amount of cholesterol. Eat this organ meat sparingly if you are watching your cholesterol. Stick with proteins low in saturated fats such as lean meats, nuts, fish, and egg whites.