While you may be able to blame your cholesterol levels partly on genetics, diet is also at least partly responsible if your cholesterol is too high. Having high cholesterol makes it more likely you will suffer from heart disease or have a heart attack or stroke. Fortunately, watching what you eat can help you keep your cholesterol levels where they belong.
Foods High in Dietary Cholesterol
Your body requires some cholesterol to support certain functions in your body, for example, hormone production. Dietary cholesterol, which is the cholesterol you get from the foods you eat, doesn't contribute as much to your total blood cholesterol as much as fat does. However, to control high blood cholesterol, your doctor may advise you to curb your consumption of cholesterol-rich foods, which include eggs, shrimp and some other shellfish and organ meats. Only foods derived from animal products, such as meat, seafood, poultry and dairy products, contain dietary cholesterol.
Foods That Increase Blood Cholesterol Levels
The foods that raise your blood cholesterol levels the most are those that are high in saturated fat and trans fat. Opting for low-fat dairy products, trimming all visible fat from meat, choosing leaner cuts of meat and eating vegetarian meals at least part of the time can help lower your saturated fat intake. Trans fats are mainly found in commercial baked goods and fried foods. Check the ingredients on a food label to see if it lists partially hydrogenated oil. If it does, it means the food contains trans fat. Limit your daily saturated fat intake to no more than 7 percent of your daily calories, and limit your daily trans fat intake to no more than 1 percent of your daily calories.
Foods That Can Decrease Blood Cholesterol Levels
Some foods can help you improve your cholesterol numbers by decreasing your low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol, while either raising or maintaining your high-density lipoprotein, or good cholesterol. Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal, since 1 1/2 cups of oatmeal provides 6 grams of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. You should get 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber each day. Use olive oil instead of butter, replace snacks high in saturated fat with nuts and eat at least 2 servings of fish per week to get some heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Foods fortified with plant sterols may also help you lower your cholesterol levels.
Adding heart-healthy foods to your diet without limiting the amount of cholesterol, saturated fat or trans fat you eat won't make a significant difference to your cholesterol levels. Switching to a healthier diet doesn't always lower your cholesterol levels back to normal, so your doctor may also recommend you to stop smoking, lose weight, exercise regularly and take a cholesterol-lowering medication.
- MayoClinic.com: High Cholesterol
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Dietary Cholesterol
- National Cholesterol Education Program: High Blood Cholesterol
- MayoClinic.com: Cholesterol: Top 5 Foods to Lower Your Numbers
- University of Illinois Extension: Dietary Factors That Increase Blood Cholesterol
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.