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Health & Wellness

Best & Worst Foods That May Help Manage Cholesterol

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A high level of certain types of cholesterol in your blood increases your risk for heart disease.

The higher those types of cholesterol the greater your risk – and the more you’re at risk for a heart attack. When cholesterol builds up in your blood it causes arteries to “harden” and narrow, which slows down blood flow to the heart. [Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute]. 

A number of things affect your cholesterol levels, not all of which you can control. Heredity, age and gender, for example, play a role in cholesterol levels and are out of your control. Cholesterol levels tend to rise with age and women’s LDL (bad cholesterol) increases after menopause [source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute].Factors you can control, however, include weight, lifestyle (e.g. cigarette smoking), physical activity and diet. Maintaining a healthy body weight and being active for 30 minutes on most days of the week are both recommended for keeping cholesterol levels under control.

Keeping cholesterol levels low involves cutting out or reducing certain foods, especially fat. “Saturated fat raises your cholesterol levels,” says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, nutritionist for the Dallas Cowboys. “White, thick and creamy foods send cholesterol levels sky-rocketing.”

Foods highest in saturated fat:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Cream cheese
  • Creamy salad dressings (ranch, Caesar, and bleu cheese, for example)
  • Alfredo sauce
  • Sour cream
  • Gravy
  • Fried foods

Better choices:

  • Mustard (vs. mayo)
  • Marinara sauce (vs. Alfredo)
  • Balsamic vinaigrette salad dressings (vs. creamy)
  • Peanut butter (vs. cream cheese)
  • Low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt (vs. sour cream)
  • Au jus (vs. gravy)
  • Baking, grilling and pan searing with healthy oils (vs. fried in saturated fats)

In addition, stay clear of trans fats and processed meats, says Kari Ikemoto, RD with HealthCare Partners, Los Angeles, Calif. “Trans fats include processed foods with hydrogenated oils.” Trans fats are doubly bad in that they lower your good cholesterol (HDL) and increase the bad cholesterol (LDL) 

Worst foods in these categories:

  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Pastrami
  • Salami
  • Pepperoni
  • Chicken skin
  • Fried foods
  • Processed cheese

Ikemoto suggests skipping these foods, which are high in both fat and sodium and can negatively impact heart health. 

Instead, add the following, healthier choices to your diet:

  • Beans and lentils
  • Whole bran (oat or wheat)
  • Rolled or steel cut oats
  • Omega-3 rich foods (salmon, ground flax seed, chia seeds, walnuts)
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables

When you're watching your cholesterol be sure to read labels and look for soft margarines that are low in saturated fat and contain no trans fat. And also include plenty of whole grains, lean meats, fish, skinless poultry and low-fat dairy foods in your diet to help keep your heart healthy for years to come.

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