Cholesterol, a waxy substance found in our bodies and certain foods, plays a crucial role in various bodily functions, including cell generation and hormone production. However, an excess of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (so-called "bad" cholesterol) can contribute to heart disease.
Our team at Premier Cardiology Consultants takes a comprehensive approach to managing risk factors for heart disease, including adjusting your diet to control LDL cholesterol. But you may be surprised to learn that “fat-free” is not always the healthiest choice.
Read what our board-certified cardiologists want you to remember about LDL and your diet when planning this week’s menus.
The liver produces cholesterol, essential for hormone production, creating cell membranes, and generating vitamin D. It is transported through your bloodstream by two lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL cholesterol is often called "bad" cholesterol because it can accumulate in the arteries, leading to plaque formation and increasing the risk of heart disease. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is known as "good" cholesterol as it helps remove excess cholesterol from the arteries, reducing the risk of heart disease.
The role of diet in LDL cholesterol
Your body produces its own cholesterol, but diet can significantly impact LDL cholesterol levels. For example, foods high in saturated and trans fats can raise LDL cholesterol.
It's important to note, though, that not all cholesterol-rich foods are equally harmful. For example, researchers once believed dietary cholesterol significantly impacted LDL. Foods rich in dietary cholesterol include egg yolks, shellfish, and organ meats.
However, studies have since shown that dietary cholesterol's effects are relatively modest compared to saturated and trans fats. Thus, while moderation is always crucial, there’s no reason to eliminate eggs, lobster (shellfish), or liver (organ meats) from your diet.
Which foods should I avoid to lower LDL cholesterol?
Foods that increase your LDL include:
Found primarily in animal-based products such as fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy products, butter, and tropical oils like coconut and palm oil, saturated fats can increase LDL cholesterol levels when consumed in excess.
Artificial trans fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oil), commonly found in processed foods, margarine, and baked goods, have been proven to raise LDL cholesterol levels while lowering HDL cholesterol significantly. Therefore, they are best avoided altogether.
Which foods should I choose to lower LDL?
Foods our Premier Cardiology Consultants team recommends for lowering LDL cholesterol and improving heart health include:
Unlike saturated and trans fats, unsaturated fats can help lower LDL cholesterol levels when consumed in moderation.
Foods rich in unsaturated fats include:
- Almonds and other tree nuts
- Olive oil
These foods all fit a heart-healthy diet plan but are calorie-dense, so it’s important not to contribute to weight gain by overindulging.
Foods high in soluble fiber, such as oats, barley, legumes, and fruits like apples and citrus, can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels by interfering with its absorption in your digestive tract.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Although omega-3 fatty acids don’t influence LDL cholesterol, they positively impact heart health by lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of blood clots, and potentially decreasing triglyceride levels.
Triglycerides are another type of blood fat that contributes to heart disease and excess weight. Obtained from the extra calories you consume, your body eventually stores triglycerides as fat cells for later use.
Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, and trout
- Chia seeds
- Walnuts (to a lesser extent)
The American Heart Association recommends two or more servings of fatty fish per week. However, be sure to cook healthy. Try seasoning to taste with herbs, quick searing with olive oil, and finishing off in the oven rather than battering and deep frying.
For more information about our heart-healthy services, schedule a visit at Premier Cardiology Consultants today.