Home » High Cholesterol Foods: What Food Types Should I Avoid?
There is so much food readily-available to us nowadays – to the point where we’re completely spoiled for choice! Having difficulty deciding whether we want to go with the healthy or unhealthy option is truly a first-world problem, but it’s a very real issue. It requires that people put in plenty of thought when picking food off of store shelves.
There’s a plethora of reasons why we should be conscious of our food choices, cholesterol levels being one of them. Numerous health issues are associated with high cholesterol and even someone of a healthy weight can be at risk.
It can be difficult to determine what foods are dangerous for our cholesterol levels, mainly because packaging of food doesn’t explicitly say to you “this will cause high cholesterol!” and unsurprisingly tends to emphasise the health benefits rather than the concerns!
It’s also difficult because a lot of inconspicuous foods – ones you’d never associate with being unhealthy – can also have a negative impact on cholesterol levels. Another challenge rests in the fact that foods naturally rich in cholesterol actually aren’t all bad, such as eggs, despite what you may have heard; perpetuated myths confuse our decision-making process even further.
To top it all off, cholesterol has wrongly acquired a bad rap as being this horrible, artery-clogging substance, despite the fact that it’s actually an essential part of the body’s normal, healthy operation. In the same way excessive sugar is bad for the body – but in a healthy amount is essential for fuelling cells – cholesterol is only harmful in great excess, especially when it’s the wrong type.
Before we look at what kinds of foods can negatively impact on your cholesterol, let’s explain why you’re looking to avoid them in the first place.
What makes high levels of cholesterol bad for you?
To understand why high levels are bad, you firstly need to know a bit about its use in the human body.
Cholesterol serves many functions, including helping to build cells, aiding digestion, and contributing to hormone production. However, it needs the assistance of proteins to travel through our blood. When proteins and cholesterol combine, they are called lipoproteins.
You might not be familiar with their technical names, but you’ve no doubt heard of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol before. This refers to the two different types of lipoproteins:
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it serves a protective function and helps ward off health issues. HDL ‘scavenges’ the bloodstream, removes excess cholesterol from arteries, and takes it to the liver where it’s broken down or passed out of the body. It also helps repair the inner walls of blood vessels and keeps them clean and healthy.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because, although it serves a useful purpose, too much is unhealthy. LDL carries cholesterol to cells that require it, but if there’s an excess of cholesterol and cells can’t absorb it all, it causes a build-up in arteries.
When cholesterol builds up in artery walls, blood flow to the brain, heart, and the rest of the body is restricted, which increases the risk of:
- Narrowed arteries (atherosclerosis).
- Heart attacks.
- Transient ischaemic attack (TIA), sometimes referred to as a ‘mini stroke’.
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
- Blood clots.
- Coronary heart disease.
You don’t need to read an article to tell you that none of these are health problems you want to deal with! So, how can you prevent cholesterol levels from getting too high? Well, you’ve heard it all before, but it can’t be reiterated enough: by maintaining a good diet, consistently.
Which foods should I avoid?
The main culprit you’re searching for in foods is saturated fats. They are responsible for raising cholesterol levels to unhealthy amounts if you excessively eat foods containing them. Avoiding fat entirely is not your aim; you’re looking to keep it down.
UK guidelines state that:
- The average man should eat less than 30g of saturated fat a day.
- The average woman should eat less than 20g of saturated fat a day.
Most food packaging should state the amount of fat and saturated fat in it, so be sure to check before you buy. You can also check the cholesterol amount on some foods; as a general guide, try to keep your cholesterol intake below 300mg a day.
Although not comprehensive, here is a list of some common foods that could easily end up in your fridge or cupboard, but are high in saturated fats and so should be cut down on or cut out if you’re high-risk (e.g. if you are a smoker, have diabetes or high blood pressure, or a family history of stroke or heart disease).
It will vary from product to product and brand to brand, but the average amount of saturated fats is also listed for most of these foods. When you pick up anything in the supermarket, check the back to see what its amount is.
Foods to avoid include:
- Butter (100g = 51g saturated fat).
- Lard (100g = 32g).
- Ghee (roughly 62%).
- Hard margarines.
- Full fat milk (1 cup = 4.6g).
- Powdered milk (1 cup = 21g).
- Cheese (100g cheddar = 21g).
- Cream (Whipped: 100g = 14g).
- Certain types of yoghurts.
- Red, fatty and/or processed meat products, including:
- Corned beef (100g = 6g).
- Ribs (100g = 11g).
- Steak (100g = 8g).
- Ground meat (100g = 11g).
- Hot dogs (100g = 8g).
- Sausages (100g = 9g).
- Bacon (100g = 14g).
- Processed meats such as bologna (100g = 7g).
- Pastries, e.g. cinnamon roll or croissant (100g = 12g).
- Muffins (depending on how they are made).
- Cakes (depending on how they are made).
- Rich biscuits.
- Toffee (100g = 21g).
- Chocolate (100g = 19g).
- Banana chips (100g = 29g).
- Mayonnaise (100g = 12g).
- Coconut oil (100g = 87g).
- Palm oil (100g = 49g).
- Certain nuts, e.g. Brazil (100g = 15), cashews (100g = 8g), and macadamia (100g = 12g).
Many of these foods are probably unsurprising to you, such as fatty meats and whole-fat dairies. But nuts, bananas, and coconut are culprits of high saturated fat that many of us might never have suspected – they’re supposed to be healthy foods! It depends on how things are prepared and its use that affects its saturated fat. Always check the packaging and find a good substitute if you can.
Which foods can I substitute?
Here are some tips and ideas for ways to substitute high-in-saturated-fat foods for healthy alternatives:
- Butter, lard, coconut, and palm oil – try vegetable spreads and oils like olive oil, rapeseed, sunflower, and soya.
- Fatty and processed meats – cut off visible fat from meat and remove skin from poultry. Minimise your red meat intake while increasing your chicken and fish intake. You could also have meat-free days and generally look for meats that are low in saturated fat.
- Milk and yoghurt – opt for semi-skimmed or 1% fat if you’re a big milk user. You could even try a plant-based milk such as almond, coconut, or hazel, or a soya alternative. Look for fat-free Greek yoghurts.
- Cheese – look for cheeses that are low fat, such as cottage cheese.
- Cakes, biscuits, desserts, etc. – look for plain buns (e.g. currant or hot cross buns) and biscuits, and those containing fruit.
- Avoid salad dressings – use vinegar, oil, and nuts to complement salad dishes rather than a fatty dollop of dressing.
Remember: cholesterol is not your enemy. It is part of the natural function of the body, and excess amounts of anything can be harmful. The foods listed as ones to avoid are certainly high in saturated fats and will negatively impact on cholesterol, but that’s not to say you have to cut them out entirely.
Rather, minimise and measure your intake – as other qualities of these foods are important, such as protein or calcium. Do your best to find a balance (bet you’ve never heard that before!) and your body will be grateful for it.
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Liz has a degree in English and Creative Writing and is skilled at writing about technical subjects in a style that anyone can understand – she enjoys supporting people’s learning. Outside of work, Liz spends her time on hobbies such as writing, reading, gaming, and fine art.