Cholesterol often gets a negative rep – and for good reason too. High levels of cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of stroke and heart disease. However, it’s important not to villainize it as not all cholesterol are the same.
There are two main categories of cholesterol. The “good” high density lipoproteins (more commonly known as HDL) and the “bad” low density lipoproteins (LDL).
HDL serves to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by transporting excess cholesterol from the body to the liver for disposal. On the other hand, LDL does the opposite by increasing cholesterol concentrations in the blood and heightening your risk of stroke or heart disease. Therefore if you have high cholesterol, your doctor will likely recommend watching your LDL levels.
Yet contrary to popular belief, dietary cholesterol generally has limited impact on blood cholesterol. Numerous studies have actually found that cholesterol concentration is largely contingent on the fats you consume – specifically saturated fats which raise LDL, and trans-fats which increase LDL while simultaneously decreasing HDL levels.
In fact, the World Health Organisation recommends that saturated fats consist of no more than 10% of our total energy consumption, and trans-fats take up less than 1%. Put simply, for the average 2,000 calorie diet, an ideal intake should be limited to 22 g of saturated fats and 2 g of trans fats per day. Hence, eating a heart healthy diet and limiting your intake of saturated fats, can help you avoid the accumulation of “bad” cholesterol and reduce your risks of cardiovascular diseases.
1. Full fat dairy
Full-fat dairy products are rich in saturated fats and should typically be limited if you’re watching your cholesterol. A 1-cup serving of whole milk generally contains 4.5 grams of saturated fat while 1 cup of cream contains 28g. Some cheeses, like cheddar and American cheese, are also among the highest in saturated fat, with 5.3g and 5.1g per ounce respectively.
The alternative: Switch to low fat options or plant-based and non-dairy alternatives. For instance, you could opt for mozzarella which contains 3.7g of saturated fat per ounce and is a great source of calcium. Choosing almond or soy milk is also beneficial for keeping your cholesterol levels in check. Being derived from plants, both milks are free of cholesterol and very low in saturated fat. They are also naturally lactose free, high in calcium and tend to be lower in calories than whole milk.
2. Red Meat
Pork chops, ribs, ground beef and steak tend to have high saturated fat and high cholesterol content. Your doctor might suggest you cut red meat from your diet if you’re watching your cholesterol.
The alternative: Eat lower-fat sources of meat such as chicken or turkey. If you love beef, opt for lean ground beef or lean cuts of sirloin or flank steak.
This might come as a shocker. Despite being marketed as a healthier alternative to butter, some margarines contain up to 2g of trans fat per tablespoon due to the partially hydrogenated oils used to make the product.
The alternative: If you’re looking to buy margarine, check the ingredients list for partially hydrogenated oils and opt for one with 0g trans-fat. If you’re choosing between butter or margarine, butter may be the healthier way to go. However, due to its high caloric and saturated fat content of 7g per tablespoon, butter can’t exactly be considered a healthy option and should be consumed in moderation.
4. Fried foods
Fried foods like chicken, donuts and calamari all taste wonderful but aren’t so great for our health. These products often contain trans fats due to being cooked in processed vegetable oils that already contain such fats. In fact, heating these oils to high temperatures can actually raise their trans fat content, which in turn increases LDL cholesterol and lower HDL.
The alternative: Try baking or roasting your foods. Not only can these alternatives help reduce your trans fat intake, you can still achieve the delicious crunch while avoiding the added calories from frying oils.
That being said, it’s important to remember that while you should reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats, you should not eliminate all fats from your diet. Eating a moderate amount of unsaturated fats, like omega-3s, are a crucial part of a healthy diet and play a major role in protecting your heart and overall health!