Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morality in developed and developing countries. High LDL cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations along with low HDL cholesterol concentrations are associated with elevated cardiovascular disease risk. To ensure that you maintain heart health, it’s important that you consume cholesterol-lowering foods and avoid high-cholesterol foods that lead to inflammation and weight gain.
When it comes to lowering high cholesterol naturally, strictly avoiding all high-cholesterol foods is not necessary. In fact, foods that contain cholesterol can still be consumed regularly. It’s all about moderation and balance — eating a combination of nutrient-dense foods that fight inflammation and tackle the root of the problem, while avoiding more harmful high-cholesterol foods like processed foods and alcohol.
7 High-Cholesterol Foods to Avoid
According to the National Cancer Institute, these are the top food sources of cholesterol among people living in the U.S.:
- Eggs and egg mixed dishes — 25 percent
- Chicken and chicken mixed dishes — 13 percent
- Beef, beef mixed dishes and burgers — 11 percent
- Full-fat cheese — 4 percent
- Sausage, hot dogs, bacon and ribs — 4 percent
- Fish and fish mixed dishes — 3 percent
- Grain-based desserts — 3 percent
- Dairy dessert — 3 percent
- Pasta and pasta dishes — 3 percent
- Pizza — 3 percent
- Mexican mixed dishes — 3 percent
- Cold cuts — 3 percent
- Reduced fat milk — 2.5 percent
- Pork and pork mixed dishes — 2 percent
- Shrimp and shrimp mixed dishes — 2 percent
Interestingly, not all of these high-cholesterol foods have a negative impact on our total cholesterol levels. The foods that cause inflammation do the most damage and increase our chances of developing heart disease. Poor-quality animal products are highly inflammatory, as are toxic oils that are made using chemicals and solvents. Alcohol, sugar and caffeine are all stimulants that the liver can use to produce more cholesterol, increasing levels of inflammation.
Research shows that increased body weight is associated with high cholesterol and increased risk for coronary heart disease. Therefore, losing weight and cutting out foods that contribute to weight gain and inflammation help you lower your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. The following foods should be avoided to decrease LDL and increase HDL cholesterol levels:
1. Canola Oil and Other Processed Vegetable Oils
When canola oil undergoes hydrogenation, which it often does to become a partially hydrogenated oil, this increases its level of trans fats. These are a group of fats that you want to avoid as much as possible since they’re scientifically known to increase LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol levels. Research shows that all fatty acids with one or more bonds in the trans configuration raises the ratio of LDL-to-HDL cholesterol. Other oils that contain trans fatty acids include corn oil, safflower oil, soy oil and vegetable oil.
2. Potato Chips and Other Packaged Foods
Extensive research evaluates the rise in snacking, snack foods and ultra-processed foods in the American diet. Some studies show that 66 percent of calories consumed by U.S. citizens comes from packaged foods and beverages. Because snacking and snack foods have grown in frequency and number, eating frequency has also increased, leading to higher rates of obesity and high cholesterol levels. Avoid unhealthy snacks, such as potato chips, crackers, fried foods and other packaged foods.
3. Cookies and Other Sugary Treats
Dietary sugars serve as the cause of obesity, several chronic diseases and a range of cardiometabolic risk factors. Today in the U.S., over 75 percent of packaged and processed foods contain some form of added sugar. Research shows that added sugars have been associated with increased LDL cholesterol, raised triglycerides and decreased HDL cholesterol.
This includes baked goods, such as cookies, cakes, muffins, pastries, candies and other packaged foods that contain added sugars. Also, sweetened beverages lead to weight gain and inflammation, which can negatively impact your cholesterol levels. This includes soda, juices, energy drinks and other sugary drinks on the market today — all of which lead to sugar addiction.
4. Bacon and Other Processed Meats
Recent studies have shown that processed meats are associated with increased cardiovascular disease and stroke mortality. Evidence suggests that processed meat consumption increases the risk of heart health issues, while unprocessed meat consumption has a small or no association with cardiovascular disease.
Limit consumption of processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, bologna, salami and hot dogs. Even those with “reduced fat” labels are high in calories and saturated fats. Plus, processed meats are often high in sodium.
Too much alcohol raises your blood pressure and triglyceride levels, while moderate alcohol consumption (up to five grams per day) may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Research shows that higher levels of consumption increase the risk of developing heart issues, beginning at 30 grams per day for women and 45 grams per day for men.
6. Milk and Other Conventional Dairy Products
Milk fat contains a broad range of fatty acids, and some have a negative impact on cholesterol-rich lipoproteins. The saturated fatty acids, such as lauric acid and myristic acid, increase total plasma cholesterol, especially LDL. Research shows that replacement of dairy saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids with polyunsaturated fats decreases LDL cholesterol levels and is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Recent randomized control trials show that fermentation of dairy can be used to produce products with more beneficial effects on plasma lipid profile, such as kefir and organic, cultured yogurt. In fact, a 2008 study showed that unpasteurized yogurt decreased serum cholesterol by 5-9 percent.
7. Refined Grain Products
A diet high in refined carbohydrates, like white bread, tortillas, bagels and pasta, has a negative effect on your HDL cholesterol level. Studies show that refined grains have a high glycemic index, and consumption of these kind of carbohydrates lead to significantly higher risks of high cholesterol. Reducing your intake of these types of carbohydrates can improve your HDL levels. Opt for high-quality, sprouted breads and fruits instead.
What High-Cholesterol Foods Should You Keep Eating?
Although the majority of dietary cholesterol in the U.S. diet comes from eggs and egg mixed dishes, research shows that egg consumption has little effect on LDL cholesterol and may actually improve HDL cholesterol levels.
In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, 28 overweight or obese male participants aged 40–70 years were instructed to reduce calorie intake by consuming a low-carbohydrate diet, and they were randomly assigned to supplement this diet with three eggs per day (640 milligrams of cholesterol) or a cholesterol-free egg substitute, which was provided to them for 12 weeks. The intervention resulted in significant reductions in body weight. LDL and triglyceride concentrations were similar between the two intervention groups, but HDL cholesterol concentrations were higher in the egg-supplemented group.
It turns out that there are plenty of health benefits of eggs, and they can be consumed without worry.
2. Grass-Fed Beef
The recommendation to lower saturated fat intake is often interpreted as requiring the elimination of beef to control or lower cholesterol levels. However, research shows that lean beef and chicken consumption had similar effects on plasma levels of total, LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, suggesting that lean, grass-fed beef and chicken are interchangeable.
3. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains flavonols, which are antioxidants that promote heart health and may reduce cholesterol levels and arterial plaque.
A study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine found that the polyphenols present in dark, healthy chocolate may contribute to the reduction of lipid peroxidation. In the study, 45 healthy volunteers consumed 75 grams daily of either white chocolate, dark chocolate or dark chocolate enriched with cocoa polyphenols. Researchers found that there was an increase in serum HDL cholesterol in the dark chocolate and dark chocolate with cocoa polyphenols groups, and LDL levels decreased in all three study groups.