Cholesterol is a yellowish, waxy substance that is essential for your body's cells. Your liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs. For this reason, you do not have to eat any additional cholesterol. Too much cholesterol or a body that cannot get rid of extra cholesterol can increase your risk for health problems and the development of heart disease.
Cholesterol is not found in any plant-based foods. It's not in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans or nuts. It is in all animal products-all meats, poultry, egg yolks, whole milk dairy products (also found in one- and two-percent milk, just in lower quantities) and seafood.
You may have heard about "good" and "bad" cholesterol. These labels are made based on how the cholesterol works in your body. The good is high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and the bad is low-density lipoprotein (LDL). The good kind helps remove cholesterol from your blood stream. When too much bad cholesterol remains in your blood, it can build up in the walls of your arteries forming plaque, which can clog your arteries.
Now for the confusing part: it is the saturated fat you eat that raises the level of the bad LDL cholesterol in your blood. Some examples of foods high in saturated fat are butter, whole milk, cheese, ice cream and red meat. A build up of cholesterol is called atherosclerosis. It can increase your risk for heat attack and death.
It is necessary to have your cholesterol checked-especially if you take antipsychotic medication! Be sure you find out your scores for total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
General Guidelines for understanding your test results (adults)
|Low||n/a||Less than 40 mg/dl|
|Borderline high||130-159 mg/dl|
|Very High||190 mg/dl and above|
|Optimal||Less than 100 mg/dl||More than 40 mg/dl|
Note: These may be different for men and women.
Lowering LDL Cholesterol
- Drink and cook with fat-free or one-percent milk. If you are drinking whole milk and don't think you can make the switch to fat-free , buy a half-gallon of each and mix them in your glass, or start with two-percent and work your way to fat-free. Fat-free milk can be substituted for whole milk in most recipes.
- Eat and cook with low-fat or reduced-fat cheeses. There are quite a few with 50-75 percent less fat clearly marked on the label. Remember to watch portion sizes with cheese.
- Eat smaller portions of meats high in fat, only three to four ounces at a meal. Ground beef, bacon and sausage should be eaten sparingly. Trim all fat. Drain fat from meats after cooking. Remove skin from poultry. You can cook with the skin on as it keeps the meat moist, and then remove it before eating. Drain fat after browning meat.
- Broil, bake, roast and microwave rather than sautéing or frying.
- Eat meatless meals at least three times a week. (This will help save money, too.)
- Read food labels for the percentage of fat in a processed-food product. Compare products and choose frozen meals and snack foods that are the lowest in fat and calories. (Note: Sometimes low-fat foods have a lot of extra sugar and therefore have similar calories as the traditional food.)
- Eat less butter. Look for butter substitutes that are low in saturated fat. A good choice is trans fat-free and Omega 3-fortified spreads.
- Reduce the amount of ice cream you eat. Switch to frozen fat-free yogurt, frozen juice or sorbet, and again remember portion size. To save money, you can make your own frozen juices. Buy a store-brand, 100 percent juice frozen concentrate, mix it with water according to directions and pour into some plastic containers. Put in the freezer. When frozen, enjoy.
- Try substituting fruit for high-fat desserts and snacks. Canned fruit in its own juice is an inexpensive choice when seasonal fruits aren't available.
- Eat more fiber. This includes whole grains as well as fruits, vegetables and nuts.
- Read labels to avoid trans fats, lard, coconut and palm oils. Choose canola and olive oils. Note: Canola oil has the most Omega-3 and is the cheapest oil to buy.
- Limit the number of egg yolks you eat each week.
Once you get used to healthful eating, looking for nutritious foods will become easier.
Raising HDL cholesterol
A recent study showed that a diet high in saturated fat can reduce the protective effect of HDL, not just increase LDL levels. This means that the quality of HDL can be altered by what you eat.
HDL is thought to have anti-inflammatory activity. It can help keep LDL cholesterol from blocking the arteries. A desirable HDL level is above 60. A level that is less than 40 for men and 50 for women increases your risk for heart disease.
Avoid saturated fats. Examples are butter, whole milk, cheese, ice cream, red meat, poultry skin, lard, palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter, hydrogenated soybean oil and hydrogenated cottonseed oil.