First off, believe it or not, I was actually surprised by this. My Instagram is a fatty highlight reel of the foods I eat (which will now be changing, deal with it), and I tend to feature only the gluttonous stuff. So you’re probably sitting there like “lol no shit you do”, but I’ve actually cut down quite a bit on the red meat/bacon intake, and I actually lost weight recently, so what gives?!
Well…I guess I do eat a lot of cheese. Cheese is wonderful. But it’s definitely high in cholesterol (and fat/saturated fat).
I went to the doctor recently to get some tests done because my energy levels have been very low, so I thought maybe it was something with my thyroid or god knows what. It was one of those situations where I Googled my symptoms and expected the words “you’re dying” to appear, but alas, not so much.
As it turns out, after all that bloodwork, there’s nothing wrong with me outside of “slightly elevated cholesterol levels”.
My last physical didn’t show these high cholesterol levels, or any other physical prior, which is funny because I used to eat bacon and red meat like 2-3x/week just a few years ago. I guess it’s caught up with me? Or I just eat more cheese? Or I’m just old? I don’t know exactly, but clearly I need to change some things.
Believe it or not, I tend to eat relatively healthy (what you don’t see on IG) and I exercise semi-regularly (need to be better about that too). But guess what? High cholesterol doesn’t mean you’re some out of shape piece of shit. It could be genetics, but in my case, it’s most likely diet.
There are two types of cholesterol, good (HDL) and bad (LDL).
HDL stands for High Density Lipoproteins. It collects bad cholesterol from the arteries and brings it back to the liver for disposal.
LDL stands for Low Density Lipoproteins. It deposits one type of cholesterol into the body and tends to build up. Since it’s not being disposed of, it’s referred to as the bad kind of cholesterol.
The liver naturally creates cholesterol, which is a waxy substance found in the body and animal products like eggs, meat, and dairy. Then the cholesterol travels through the body using proteins in the bloodstream. Cholesterol is an essential building block for cell membranes, as well as hormones and Vitamin D, and substances that work to digest fatty foods. Our bodies produce the right amount of cholesterol needed to function, but we can also add it to our diets by eating animal products and processed food. When we consume extra cholesterol, our bodies compensate by producing less of it.
Some people can automatically produce too much cholesterol through no fault of their own, but you have to manage it because it can be very bad for your health. Too much cholesterol can block blood flow in the arteries, leading to heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.
Trans Fats are the ones you want to avoid the most. These are found in solidified vegetable oils like hydrogenated oil (think fried food, baked goods, packaged foods). Not only do they increase levels of bad cholesterol, but they lower levels of good cholesterol too.
Saturated Fats are not great either. Usually found in red meat and dairy. Look for low-fat dairy products if you must have it. This is my life lately because I must have cheese, so I buy low fat, low sodium cheese. It’s just great (yes, that was sarcasm).
Unsaturated fats are usually the good kinds of fat. Think fish, nuts, beans, avocados, and vegetable oils. These types of fats can help increase the rate at which the liver breaks down bad cholesterol.
I think the first instinct when people hear “you have high cholesterol” is to cut out all fats. And that’s not the answer. You have to have a healthy balance of good fats and fiber. Finding things that have a good amount of soluble fiber is actually more important than just lowering your fat intake, according to The American Heart Association. For example, potatoes get a bad rep, but that’s because most of the time, we are removing the skin, then deep frying them or mashing them with butter and cream. Most of the fiber is found in the skin! If you keep the skin on and skip the dairy, that makes for a much healthier side dish which actually helps lower LDL.
Below is a little list for your reference (and my reference, as I’m learning all this stuff too)!
High Cholesterol Foods to Avoid:
- Fried foods – this especially goes for fast food, but you probably know that already
- Baked goods – cookies, cake, biscuits; anything that’s enjoyable basically
- Butter/full fat dairy products
- Red meat – sausage, bacon, burgers, some cuts of steak; again, all the tasty kinds
- Trans fats – you’ll have to do some label-reading on this one, as it’s in a lot of packaged foods
- High sodium foods – frozen food, canned soup (I love canned soup so I just look for lower sodium ones now)
- Sugary drinks – again, read labels. You’d be surprised as to what products contain added sugar
Low Cholesterol Foods to Add
- Produce – berries, vegetables, basically anything on the perimeter of the supermarket (perhaps sans the deli/cheese section)
- Whole grains – oats, barley, whole wheat bread and pasta
- Beans – black beans, chickpeas. Try Banza chickpea pasta if you haven’t, it’s lower in carbs, as well as high in protein/fiber
- Lean meats – turkey, skinless chicken, pork tenderloin, beef sirloin/tenderloin
- Eggplant – good source of soluble fiber
- Apples, grapes, strawberries – high amounts of pectin, a soluble fiber which is said to reduce LDL
- Low-fat dairy products
- Canned tuna (but maybe don’t mix with mayo, opt for olive oil instead)
- Natural nut butters (peanut/almond) – as long as they don’t contain hydrogenated fats, you should be good, just don’t overdo it
- Foods with Sterols and Stanols – derived from plants, these help the body absorb cholesterol from food. Also available as supplements, click here for CholestOff from my Amazon shop.
High Cholesterol Foods You Can Eat in Moderation
- Eggs – high in cholesterol, but a good source of calcium and vitamin D, they can also help increase HDL (the good kind)
- Good oils like olive oil and certain vegetable oils (canola)
- Omega-3 rich foods like salmon, tuna, ground flaxseed, walnuts
- Shellfish – a good source of iron and protein
- Certain cheeses – cottage cheese, ricotta, and a few other select cheeses are low in fat and a good source of calcium
- Organic, grass-fed, steak – moral of the story, steer clear of processed meat when you can, but small portions of good meat contain zinc, iron and B12
Lastly, here’s a good breakdown of the cholesterol and fat levels in different cheeses. Unsurprisingly, cheddar is the worst offender. BUT I LOVE CHEDDAR. Ugh. I know I will be referring back to this one for a long time. Cholesterol and Saturated Fats in Cheese
And if I’m being honest, I’m sure I will find a way to still eat pizza. It just might be a slightly different, healthier version. If you get a thin crust pizza with extra sauce, no cheese or low-fat cheese, and pile on some veggies, it’s a relatively healthy snack.
And speaking of sauce, have you tried Otamot sauce yet? It’s one of my latest healthy obsessions. Tomato sauce that’s blended with a bunch of veggies, so it’s thick, sweet, and full of nutrients/fiber. Use my link here and code SKINNYPIGNYC10 for 10% off!
More to come on this journey and the foods I’ll be eating; I have been cutting back on the saturated fats, meat, and cheese for 3 weeks now, and honestly, it feels good. I hate to admit it, but it does. My energy levels are actually better, not to mention I feel less bloated. Dairy is rough on the digestive system in general, so perhaps it is all somewhat tied together? Guess we’ll find out!