Whether you have high cholesterol or are looking to avoid it getting to that state, it’s important to follow a low-cholesterol diet. But what foods do you need to include and what should you avoid?
You’re probably aware of the importance of following a low-cholesterol diet but you might not be sure what that entails. This article will give you some insights into the issues with cholesterol and what you need to know of.
If you’ve had blood work done, someone has told you where you are at regarding your cholesterol levels. If it’s high, you know you need to make changes to get it lower.
What Is Cholesterol?
This is where it can get confusing as cholesterol is a natural thing that your body produces and that you need for optimal health. It’s a waxy/fatty substance that is manufactured in the body but also comes from the diet. Cholesterol is always associated as being bad but it’s important to get an understanding of its true role.
At certain levels, cholesterol is good, and it’s an essential building block for the cells in your body and is also required for making hormones. The liver manufactures the bulk of cholesterol in your body, up to 75% of it. The remaining 20-25% of it comes from the foods you eat.
Cholesterol will come primarily from animal fats that can be classified as saturated fats. This cholesterol can get transported to the liver and makes up the total cholesterol in the body.
The Difference With Triglycerides
This will also show up on a blood test and is another indicator of health. Triglycerides are another circulating fatty substance and these are also important in the body. Part of their role is to transport and store energy so this is also something you want, just not too much of.
You can’t exercise and engage your muscles, and other cells, without triglycerides. The difference between triglycerides and cholesterol is that the triglycerides will mainly come from foods. This time instead of coming from saturated fats they will come from things like sugar, carbohydrates, and alcohol.
Regarding carbohydrates, these will be the refined and processed types that act just like sugar in the body. They are high glycemic and fast-acting when it comes to blood glucose levels.
Avoid anything white to keep these levels lower such as:
- White sugar
- Refined white flour (pastries, cakes, cookies, etc)
- White pasta
- White rice
The triglycerides from food can also be transported to the liver and can combine with the cholesterol into packages which are called lipoproteins. These are combinations of fats and proteins and known as HDL or “good” cholesterol, or LDL or “bad” cholesterol. The triglycerides can also be transported to fat cells and can be stored for use at a later time.
This is a good way to think of your body fat; it’s a reserve fuel tank. It’s a backup energy source for times when energy is needed. This is an ancient mechanism that’s been in place to help us through times of famine or drought. Your body doesn’t know though that we live in a world with access to food 24/7.
There’s no fear of worrying about if our next meal will happen or not.
The Problem With High Cholesterol
So when triglycerides and cholesterol levels get too high this is when problems happen. High amounts of cholesterol can be taken up by arteries throughout your body. The heart is one of these places it can build up and plaque forms on the walls of the arteries.
This is known as atherosclerosis and it can end up blocking the blood flow in the artery. This can cause chest pain or pain in the chest that comes from something as simple as walking.
How does cholesterol plaque in a blood vessel look like – illustration:
If these form into a clot it can completely block the artery and then terrible things can happen like a heart attack or stroke. If you are finding yourself with cholesterol levels rising this is when you want to take on a low-cholesterol diet. It may be a good idea to start this regardless as a proactive way from having these levels get too high.
As always, you want to bring up any of these concerns with your doctor and go for a blood test if it’s been a while. You should always have an idea where you’re at when it comes to your health. So what things should you include and avoid regarding undertaking a low-cholesterol diet?
What To Avoid
1. Trans Fats
This stuff is absolute poison and as much bad press that saturated fat gets, trans fats are the worse offender. We also know trans fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, and this is when they inject hydrogen atoms into oils. This makes them become more solid at room temperature and this is a benefit for a few reasons.
The first is that it lends itself well to packaging and leads to less spoilage. Products with trans fats have a much longer shelf life leading to less overhead costs for manufacturers. Think of it as a preservative in food. The other big thing is it is very cheap. Portion sizes have been able to increase without a big change in costs to companies.
But this may be killing us. Trans fats will not only raise your bad LDL cholesterol but they can also lower your good HDL cholesterol. These are hands down the most harmful types of fats and you can be certain that you will find them in anything that comes out of a box or package.
Another reason to be eating real whole food. Trans fats are so bad they are now being outright banned. in 2013 the FDA announced that they no longer recognize partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as safe because of their connection to coronary heart disease. Many cities and countries have got on board with banning this harmful substance.
Here are things to look out for to avoid trans fats:
- Packaged cookies, cakes, pastries, and donuts
- Potato chips and crackers
- Packaged frosting
- Commercially fried foods
- Bakery goods that contain shortening
- Buttered popcorn including microwave and movie popcorn
- Anything that contains partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils
2. Saturated Fats
So some saturated fat is ok but if you’ve been told you need to avoid it, you want to be careful of animal products. It’s especially important to avoid factory-farmed animal proteins that are much higher in saturated fat. These animals are pumped full of growth hormones to increase their bodyweight rapidly to sell for a higher value.
You also have the problem of ingesting these hormones when you consume them along with the antibiotics and other chemicals they are exposed to. If you are choosing animal proteins look to get pastured grass-fed, and grass-finished proteins. These cleaner versions will have higher levels of omega-3 and CLA which is a healthier type of fat that can help with weight loss.
If you’re looking to follow a low-cholesterol diet, you’ll want to be careful with:
- Red Meat
- Organ Meats
Foods You Need To Include in a Low-Cholesterol Diet
Fiber will be at the top of the list here. There is insoluble fiber (which is important for digestion) and the type we’re more concerned with; soluble fiber. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol to carry it through the bloodstream and helps remove it through the stool.
You may think oats and barley for high-fiber foods and these are good choices but you can also find it in:
- Oat Bran
- Chia seeds
- Ground flaxseed
- Brussel sprouts
- The skins of fruits
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes
The sooner you can switch to real whole foods, and adopt a low-cholesterol diet, the better your health will be for it. Avoiding anything that is manufactured and processed will help you in cutting out all the nasty ingredients responsible for raising cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the first place.