What do eggs, cheese, meat, as well as countless other foods, have in common other than being absolutely delicious? Answer - they are all packed with significant amounts of cholesterol.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that can be found in the cells in your body. Technically, your liver naturally produces all of the cholesterol your body requires to function. However, we sometimes take in more cholesterol when we eat the aforementioned foods.
So, what’s the big idea with cholesterol, and why is it
sometimes related to heart problems?
Cholesterol helps your body digest food, produce certain vitamins, and make hormones. It is beneficial to overall health when it’s maintained at an equilibrium. However, when we eat certain fatty foods (otherwise known as foods that are high in trans fat or saturated fats), the liver over-produces cholesterol and throws off its natural equilibrium.
Because cholesterol is found in the blood, a high cholesterol level can be detrimental to health.
The heart, serving as the main hub that pumps blood throughout the body, can sometimes become overloaded with too much cholesterol, causing buildups and blockages to form. When this happens, the risk for heart-related illnesses, like heart attacks, increases.
So, how can high cholesterol levels be controlled?
By watching what you eat! Some foods are good for your cholesterol, and others not so much. Check out the worst and best foods for your cholesterol:
- Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are typically found in dairy products and meat. Eating too many saturated fats can trigger your liver to produce more cholesterol than it normally would - resulting in an unhealthy amount of cholesterol.
Of course, eating saturated fats every once and a while won’t hurt you. With saturated fats, it’s best to take an ‘everything in moderation’ approach if you are unwilling to remove them from your diet altogether.
Some saturated fats to avoid include:
- Poultry, specifically poultry with skin
- Beef with fat
- Whole-milk or reduced-fat milk dairy products, like certain yogurts and cheeses
- Baked goods and other foods made with oils
- Trans Fats
Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fats (opposed to the saturated fats listed above) that come in both artificial and natural forms. Few foods contain natural trans fats, yet some forms of meat have it because the bacteria grows in the gut of some of the animals we eat. These foods typically are not harmful to overall health.
However, artificial trans fats are unfortunately much more abundant and hazardous. Artificial trans fats are produced in a lab - hence the artificial in the name - and are created to combine vegetable oils and hydrogen to make them more solid for a longer shelf life.
Artificial trans fats have been correlated to an increased risk for heart disease because they both increase cholesterol levels and can lower amounts of good cholesterol as well.
The good news is that many food processing companies have reduced the amount of artificial trans fats in their foods. However, they can absolutely still be found on the market.
Artificial trans fats can sometimes be found in:
- Fast foods
- Snack foods like crackers, cookies, and popcorn
- Baked goods
- Red Meats
Apart from containing saturated fats, the following red meats (referencing meat from animals typically raised on a farm) are naturally high in cholesterol and should be eaten in moderation to maintain a healthy cholesterol level:
- Pork and its variants, including bacon
You now know about all of the worst foods for your cholesterol levels, but how about some of the best? It’s important to note here, too, that while fatty foods are not the healthiest choice, living a totally fat-free diet can be more harmful than including the occasional harmful fatty food into your diet.
Here are the best foods for counteracting the effects of unhealthy cholesterol levels:
- Food on the Food Pyramid
That’s right! Take this opportunity to remember back to elementary school when you studied the food pyramid and learned about the best foods for your body. Did you know it’s been updated in the last fifteen years or so? For a visual guide of good foods to lower your cholesterol, revisit the pyramid as you read this article. Most of these are the foods that you normally think of when “healthy foods” are mentioned:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Healthy fats (think nuts!)
- Whole grains like barley, oats, brown rice, and certain kinds of pastas and bread
Foods that are high in fiber are also great additions to your diet if you’re trying to lower your bad cholesterol levels. Because fiber is soluble, it can lower the amount of bad cholesterol that gets absorbed into your bloodstream. Try these:
- Brussel sprouts
Of course, there are supplements that can be added to your diet that can work to lower your bad cholesterol. In particular, fish oil supplements are easily accessible, affordable, and largely physician recommended for those who need a little heart health boost.
So, what’s the best plan of action?
Be sure to consult your physician to test your cholesterol and establish a game-plan for the best way to lower it. A combination of a fish oil supplement and eating the right food is sure to help improve your overall cholesterol levels and get you on the road to living a healthy, happy life.
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