Cholesterol didn’t inspire the phrase “you are what you eat,” but when it comes to lowering your risk of heart attack, the words still ring true. A healthy diet of lean meats and fresh vegetables is vital to reducing your cholesterol. While there are some important foods that should be a regular part of your diet, there are also foods that should be avoided because they have a bad track record where cholesterol is concerned.
What better way to celebrate National Cholesterol Education Month than with a list of the “usual suspects” that contribute to high cholesterol? If your numbers are high, you’re not alone. More than 35 million Americans have cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL, which means they are at higher risk for heart disease.
FOODS THAT MAY INCREASE YOUR CHOLESTEROL
Tape this list to your refrigerator and kick any of these offenders out of your pantry!
- Deep-fried foods (We’re looking at you, French fries.)
- High-fat lunch meats
- Organ meats such as kidneys and liver
- High-fat proteins (duck, goose, steak)
- Prepared or packaged meats (hot dogs, sausage)
- Dairy products that are high in fat, such as whole milk, buttermilk or yogurt
- Heavy cooking oils, such as pure butter, and margarines (It’s better to go with oil alternatives such as olive oil or canola oil.)
- Desserts and snack foods that are high in trans fats, such as cookies or regular microwave popcorn.
- Pizza. If you can’t live without it, don’t smother it with cheese. Try to pack it with high-fiber vegetables.
- Added sugars. Sometimes low-fat foods have added sugar—which, of course, defeats the purpose. Learn to read labels.
EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT HIGH CHOLESTEROL
There are two types of cholesterol : HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol). Need an easy way to remember it? Look at the first letter. You want the good cholesterol (with an H) to be high, while the bad cholesterol (with an L) should be lower. Cholesterol can also affect the level of your triglycerides, which is the amount of fat in your blood. Drinking alcohol can raise your triglycerides, and too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure, which creates a potentially deadly cocktail for heart disease.
What numbers should be your goal? The Centers for Disease Control provides this useful information:
Total cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL (“bad” cholesterol) Less than 100 mg/dL
HDL (“good” cholesterol) 40 mg/dL or higher
Triglycerides Less than 150 mg/dL
If your cholesterol is too high, try lowering it by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight (or losing weight if needed)
- Making exercise a regular part of your day-to-day activities
- Eating healthy foods and limiting some of the offenders listed above
- Limiting your alcohol use
- Quitting smoking
- Speaking with your doctor about medication
Need more information? Visit the Centers for Disease control website for extensive educational materials on cholesterol, and speak with your doctor about what you can do now for a healthier heart later.