If you've got high cholesterol, it's important to understand what's bad for you to eat — and know what you can take in to boost your good cholesterol.
There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL,) the bad cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the good.
You can blame the bad LDL on two things: your genes and your diet. In fact, 75 percent of our cholesterol is produced by our bodies; only 25 percent comes from what we eat. Some of us are born with the tendency to over-produce LDL because of the genes we inherit from our parents or grandparents. That's just bad luck. But our diet we have control over.
For starters, cholesterol is found only in animal-based products — meat, egg yolks and dairy. Some dairy products have been altered to lower their cholesterol content. An 8-ounce glass of skim milk, for example, has 4.4 milligrams of cholesterol, compared to 33.2 mg. in whole milk. Government nutrition guidelines suggest you limit your cholesterol consumption to less than 300 mg. per day. Just for some perspective, a 13-ounce steak has 393 mg. One chicken leg with skin on has about 105 mg.
Unlike many nutrients you read on food labels, there's no minimum level of cholesterol you should get from food. Your body makes all that you need. That's why vegans — those who eat no animal products whatsoever — can have a healthy diet, if they make wise choices.
When you think about lowering your cholesterol through diet, you may think low-fat is the goal. But that thinking has changed. The idea is to replace bad fats with fats that are actually good for you.
What are the bad fats?
- Saturated fats. These are the ones that generally are found in animal products. Think bacon cheeseburger. But saturated fats also are in some vegetable-based products, such as coconut and palm oil.
- Trans fats. These are found in some vegetable-based oils and margarine and are common in many processed foods, including baked goods and fried fast food. They raise the bad LDL.
Try to replace saturated and trans fats in your diet with ones that boost your good HDL cholesterol.
Good fats include:
- Monounsaturated fats - found in olive, canola and peanut oil
- Polyunsaturated fats - found in corn and safflower oil
The Mayo Clinic has identified its top five cholesterol-lowering foods:
- Oatmeal and other high-fiber foods, such as apples, pears and kidney beans
- Fatty fish such as sardines, salmon and lake trout
- Walnuts, almonds and other nuts that are not coated in salt or sugar
- Olive oil
- Foods fortified with plant sterols or stanols, such as some orange juice and yogurt drinks
To learn more about what you can eat to help control your cholesterol, check out a simple table, created by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, that shows common dietary fats and how they affect your LDL and HDL.