As a health advocate, I’m careful to watch my diet to prevent increases in my cholesterol. High cholesterol levels are among the leading risk factors for serious forms of heart disease, but they’re something millions of Americans live with. Treatments for high cholesterol and its consequences form an expansive industry of pharmaceutical drugs including statins, bile-acid-binding resins, and cholesterol absorption inhibitors.
While these drugs arguably have their place, a healthy diet is absolutely necessary for both preventing and treating high cholesterol–and that’s why I’m careful about what I put into my body.
Here are the foods I eat to keep my cholesterol in check — and the foods I avoid like the plague.
Whole-wheat pasta is my favorite way to improve my heart health, because it is so affordable and delicious. Pasta also combines easily with other heart-healthy foods, like olive oil and vegetables.
2.Wild Alaskan Salmon
The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovy, mackerel and herring. Omega-3 fats in these fish reduce triglycerides and the overall risk of heart disease. I’m specifically a fan of Alaskan salmon because it is abundant and sustainable.
Beans, they’re good for your heart! Beans can help to reduce your cholesterol levels, and they’re a healthier source of protein than red meat. Since I’m predominantly vegetarian, beans — especially soy — are my primary protein source.
4.Fruits and Vegetables
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: fruits and vegetables are the backbone of a heart-healthy diet. Antioxidant compounds in fruits and veggies can prevent oxidation, or molecular damage, to deposits of LDL cholesterol, making complications like heart attack less likely.
I eat olive oil like I’m Mediterranean — meaning it goes on virtually everything I eat, in copious amounts. Along with canola and peanut oil, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which can reduce LDL cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Use olive oil as your primary source of dietary fat.
I tend to shy away from full-fat dairy products on general principle. Eat only low-fat dairy products if you have high cholesterol. Full-fat dairy products are among the most concentrated sources of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, both of which increase LDL cholesterol.
Eggs have a bad reputation for contributing to high cholesterol, but the American Heart Association contends that one or two eggs per week can be part of a heart-healthy diet. Eat no more than this amount, though, to avoid jumps in your LDL cholesterol. I personally try to eat eggs no more than a few times per month.
I don’t eat red meat, largely because I want to avoid the risk of heart disease associated with it. Red meat can arguably be included in a healthy, balanced diet, but you should be eating it no more than once per week to keep your cholesterol in check. Avoid organ meats entirely, since they contain massive amounts of dietary cholesterol.
Found in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oil, trans fats both increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol while reducing HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Steer clear of any food that contains hydrogenated oil in any amount, even if the label claims it is free of trans fat — this label only means that it contains less than .5 grams per serving.
A little alcohol here and there may boost your HDL, or “good” cholesterol, but too much alcohol can be seriously detrimental to your health. Drink no more than 7-10 drinks per week, and no more than three drinks per occasion, to maintain your general health.
High cholesterol is not a death sentence, but it is a sign that you need to take steps to preserve your health and well-being — up to and including changes in your dietary habits. By altering your diet and abiding by your health care provider’s guidelines, you can help to prevent this condition from turning into something more serious.