One of the most significant factors for having high cholesterol is your diet, but the good news is that your diet is 100% within your control. This means that even if your diet isn’t so great, you can take matters into your hands and give your diet a makeover.
But how do you know if your diet is contributing to your high cholesterol? Dr. Henock Saint-Jacques and our team here at Harlem Cardiology may discuss specific dietary modifications for you here in our East Harlem, New York City, office.
In the meantime, let’s explore the connection between diet and high cholesterol and discuss how certain dietary choices may contribute to elevated cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your liver produces, but you also obtain some cholesterol from certain foods. Cholesterol isn’t all bad, though. It plays a vital role in various bodily functions, such as hormone production, cell structure, and digestion. Problems arise when you have too much cholesterol, leading to plaque buildup in your arteries.
Types of cholesterol
To comprehend the impact of diet on cholesterol levels, it's important to know the different types of cholesterol:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
Commonly referred to as "bad" cholesterol, LDL carries cholesterol from your liver to your body's cells. Elevated LDL levels can lead to the accumulation of plaque in the arteries.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
Known as "good" cholesterol, HDL helps remove excess cholesterol from your bloodstream and transports it to your liver for elimination.
How diet affects cholesterol levels
Now let’s take a look at how your diet affects your LDL cholesterol. Research suggests that certain dietary choices can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels, while other choices can help lower bad cholesterol.
Here are some key factors to consider:
Saturated and trans fats
Foods high in saturated and trans fats, such as red meat, full-fat dairy products, fried foods, and commercially baked goods, can raise LDL cholesterol levels. If you eat a lot of foods from this list, try making healthy swaps.
Foods rich in dietary cholesterol, such as organ meats, shellfish, and egg yolks, can cause a modest increase in LDL cholesterol levels.
Not eating enough fiber foods
If you don’t eat enough fiber (in conjunction with other dietary choices), your diet could be contributing to your high cholesterol levels.
Eating too many processed and refined foods
Processed and refined foods often contain unhealthy trans fats, high levels of sodium, and added sugars. These food choices can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and increased LDL cholesterol levels, so it’s best to avoid (or at least limit) them.
Maintaining a heart-healthy diet
Adopting a heart-healthy diet can have a positive impact on cholesterol levels and your overall cardiovascular health. Here are some dietary recommendations:
Make healthy swaps
Do you eat a lot of red meat or fried food? Swap lean chicken or fish for red meat, choose low-fat dairy, and opt for baked versions of your favorite fried treats.
Choose healthy fats
Replace saturated and trans fats with healthier options like monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts) and polyunsaturated fats (found in fatty fish and seeds). Consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help increase HDL cholesterol levels and reduce triglycerides.
Sprinkle chia seeds or walnuts on top of your oatmeal, add flaxseeds to smoothies, or top your salad with grilled fish.
Increase fiber intake
Opt for whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables to boost your fiber intake. Women should aim for at least 22-25 grams of fiber per day, and men should aim for 30-38 grams each day.
Limit processed foods
Reduce your consumption of processed and refined foods, which are often high in unhealthy fats, sodium, and added sugars. Opt for whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible.
Incorporate lean proteins
Choose lean protein sources such as skinless poultry, fish, legumes, and tofu instead of high-fat meats. These options provide essential nutrients without the added cholesterol and saturated fats.
Include plant sterols
Plant sterols, found naturally in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fruits, can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Practice portion control
Monitoring portion sizes is crucial for maintaining a healthy weight and managing cholesterol levels. Be mindful of your food portions and avoid overeating.
Do you need help managing your cholesterol?
While diet is an incredibly important element of your cholesterol management plan, it’s just one aspect. Regular exercise, stress management, and, in some cases, medication can help safely lower your cholesterol levels.
If you’re not sure where to start with your dietary modifications, or if you’re not sure what your cholesterol levels are, call us at 646-381-2181 or use our online form to schedule your appointment and take a stand against high cholesterol.