Cholesterol Do’s and Don’ts – Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid

It is no secret that cholesterol is a major factor in determining your overall health. The doctors at WebMD agree that an optimal combined cholesterol level (adding HDL and LDL cholesterol together) should be less than 200; 200-239 is considered borderline and combined cholesterol over 240 indicates a dramatically increased risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke.

Thanks to television commercials, most of us now know that cholesterol levels are largely determined by hereditary. But is it also possible to control, and even lower, cholesterol levels through diet and proper nutrition. So which foods should you eat to lower your cholesterol … and which foods should you avoid in order to maintain healthy?

High Cholesterol Foods To Avoid

When it comes to high cholesterol foods, saturated fats are one of the worst offenders. Saturated fats are made up of triglycerides that contain only saturated fatty acids. While you will find high levels of saturated fats in many prepared foods, there are also a number of naturally occurring foods that contain a high proportion of saturated fats. These would include fatty meats such as pork, beef, lamb, cream, lard, cheese, butter, whole milk, poultry skins, coconut oil, cottonseed oil and chocolate.

Trans fats are also major contributors of high cholesterol. You’ll find high levels of trans fats in baked goods, pastries, snack foods and margarine.

Variety meats, or meat that has been taken from some part of the animal other than the skeletal muscles, are notoriously high in cholesterol. Variety meats would include organ meat such as the liver, spleen, brain, tongue, giblets, and sweetbreads (or glands) of animals.

How you prepare meat also affects the amount of cholesterol that you consume. Instead of frying or braising meat in oil, consider grilling, broiling, baking or steaming your meat. And limit a portion of meat to 3 ounces or less.

Many people wonder if eggs are OK to eat on a low cholesterol diet, and while it’s true that eggs do contain cholesterol (all in the yolk), it is OK to eat one egg a day, with the yolk, if you skip meat and lower your intake of other dairy products on the days that you eat an egg. However, if you skip the yolk and just eat the egg white, you can eat as many as you like without increasing your blood cholesterol levels.

Foods to Help Lower Your Cholesterol (and Lose Weight!)

The good news is that foods that help lower your cholesterol also assist in weight loss and contribute to your overall good health. It would make sense that if saturated fats contribute to high levels of cholesterol, then unsaturated fats would help keep cholesterol in check. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, and they are dense with water and nutrients; this helps you feel full without gorging yourself on saturated fats that come hand-in-hand with cookie and snack crackers. So it makes sense that any low cholesterol diet should focus on fruits and vegetables, while limiting meats and dairy products.

Increase the soluble fiber in your diet by eating plenty of acorn squash, apples, baked potatoes, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, citrus, dates, dried beans and lentils, prunes, and strawberries.

Other low cholesterol foods include whole grains such as oat bran, as well as nuts such as walnuts and almonds (but not cashews). The Mayo Clinic also suggests you take daily fish oil supplements if you aren’t getting enough Omega3 fatty acids from fish. If you do enjoy fish, try and eat it at least twice a week and eat of variety of fish such as trout, mackerel, salmon, herring, tuna, and whitefish.

Again, how you cook your food affects cholesterol levels almost as much as the food itself, so try using olive oil when cooking instead of saturated cooking fats.