For years, we’ve been told to stay away from foods that contain any cholesterol. But in recent years, our perception of cholesterol has changed dramatically, and scientists have discovered that not all cholesterol is bad for us, and the impact of cholesterol on our heart health may be lower than we initially thought.
While high blood cholesterol is linked to serious health risks like heart attack and stroke, decades of dietary research failed to back up the claim that cutting out cholesterol-containing foods is helpful for reducing blood cholesterol. As long as you maintain a heart-healthy diet, you may be able to lower your blood cholesterol even if you continue eating these surprising foods.
Is Cholesterol in Foods Bad for Your Cardiovascular System?
Over the past decade, our understanding of cholesterol has become significantly more nuanced. For one, we realize that cholesterol is not harmful in itself. In fact, it’s necessary for the human body to produce bile acid, vitamin D, healthy new cells, and hormones.
We also now know that cholesterol exists in different forms in the human body. In order to transport cholesterol through the blood vessels, the body uses special proteins called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) are the two main ones, and they impact our health differently.
- LDL (also known as “bad” cholesterol) carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells. LDL is often called “bad” because high levels of it build up in the blood vessels and raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- HDL (also known as “good” cholesterol) takes the cholesterol back to the liver. The liver helps remove cholesterol from the body, so it reduces one’s risk of cardiovascular issues.
When your doctor tells you that you must lower your cholesterol level, they usually mean LDL levels. And many people do, as nearly 40% of all Americans have high blood cholesterol. For these people, it’s long been recommended that they avoid foods with cholesterol in them. Research suggests that this may not be necessary.
In fact, there’s a lack of evidence suggesting that cholesterol in foods raises LDL levels in the blood. Moreover, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans eliminated that people restrict their cholesterol intake to 300 mg/day.
Instead, the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that you focus on two other nutrients in order to keep cholesterol levels in check - saturated and trans fats. Limit your intake of saturated fat intake to a maximum of 6% of your total calories, and avoid trans fats completely if possible.
Unfortunately, some healthy foods still get a bad reputation due to their cholesterol content. As long as you consume them in moderation, you needn’t worry about your cholesterol levels climbing up.
Read the facts about more cholesterol myths here - 6 Things We All Get Wrong About CHOLESTEROL.
Who doesn’t love a tasty omelet for breakfast? However, many people with high cholesterol regularly stay away from eggs. The AHA says that you don’t have to avoid eggs completely, even if you have high cholesterol or an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. “Healthy individuals can include up to a whole egg or equivalent daily.”
A study released just this year even suggests that including whole eggs in a plant-based diet is healthier than egg substitutes due to their antioxidant, choline, and healthy lipid content. In addition, eating eggs increases levels of “good” HDL cholesterol according to research. For a more detailed examination of eggs and their impact on cardiovascular health, read this article - Is Eating an Egg Daily Bad For Your Heart?
Generally, remember to combine eggs with heart-healthy ingredients like whole-grain bread and avocados, as foods high in saturated fats like bacon may work against your cholesterol goal.
If you eat only 12 large shrimps, you’ll be consuming 130 mg of cholesterol (43% according to outdated recommendations). That’s why shrimp would have been completely off the table for people with high cholesterol in the past.
However, the same quantity of shrimp contains only 2 grams of fat, none of which is saturated fat. So as long as you’re not eating the shrimp fried or cooked with a lot of butter, it’s still good for your heart according to the AHA.
Need inspiration? Here are four great recipes with shrimp to consider:
If you’ve long forgotten the taste of full-fat dairy, you may be glad to hear that a moderate intake of full-fat milk, cheese, and other dairy foods can work within a healthy diet. Studies suggest a diet that includes dairy is correlated with a lower risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest having 3 servings of dairy every day.
Cheese, especially, is rich in calcium, peptides, and healthy fats that will benefit your heart health. Cheese may even be superior to butter in its ability to lower LDL “bad” cholesterol, studies report.
Just make sure to limit your intake of certain cheeses, as aged hard cheese can contain quite a lot of salt and saturated fat. Low-sodium cheese, like mozzarella or burrata, is especially beneficial.
While it’s true that beef can be high in saturated fat, beef cuts vary greatly from very lean to quite fatty. According to research, eating smaller portions of lean cuts of beef can be part of a balanced diet.
For instance, a 2012 research paper established that a diet made up primarily of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts with lean beef as the main source of protein can remain heart-healthy. In the study, participants consumed 1-5.4 oz of lean beef every day (which made up about 7% of their total calorie intake).
When buying beef, choose lean cuts with words like “round” or “loin” (e.g., tenderloin) and try to eat no more than one 3-oz serving of beef a day.
Here are two healthy and delicious beef recipes for you:
Other Tips for Lowering Cholesterol
- A heart-healthy diet is rich in vegetables, whole grains, fruits, fish, poultry, nuts, and vegetable oils, such as olive oil.
- Limit your intake of sodium, sugar, and processed meat.
- Stay physically active and maintain healthy body weight.
- And lastly remember, if you’ve already made these and other lifestyle changes but your cholesterol levels are still high, consult your doctor, as you might require medication to keep cholesterol levels in check.
H/T: Verywell Health