Cholesterol is made in our bodies naturally. Our liver is the primary producer and we make all we need. It is also found in other animals. Dietary cholesterol (consumed in food) is only found in animals. We do need cholesterol in our body for healthy cells and digestive function, however, we actually don’t need to consume it in food to have it.
Cholesterol is one of those products of food that we don’t need to consume but comes along with other nutrients we do need to consume from food. The interaction between saturated fats (check out this post here on eating healthy fat) and cholesterol are what creates the chemistry for heart disease over time.
Tip 1: Aim for more plants and fish vs. meat
As we talked about with fats, meats tend to have the most saturated fat, and also the most cholesterol. Beef is one of the offenders. Dairy products, egg yolks, bacon, sausages and more.
Plant foods like beans, peas, fruits, nuts and seeds and vegetables do not contain dietary cholesterol. Egg whites also do not contain cholesterol. (Only the yolks).
Following our plate graphic from my portion size post will help keep you on check for balanced eating, and keeping cholesterol on the plate low.
Tip 2: Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products
Because cholesterol is found in these sources, and often coincides with saturated fats, choosing low or no fat helps avoid added dietary cholesterol.
As I discussed in the post about fats: “
You might wonder about reports and information out there about those low-fat products being loaded “secretly” with sugar. This is generally not true, and if there is some type of added sugar (it’s on the label listed in the ingredients section) if you look at the full-fat counterpart it generally contains the same amount of sugar as the low fat. Thus if you are going to choose one of the two go for the lower fat, then you don’t have sugar and bad fat. How can you be sure what you are about to consume from a packaged or dairy product – read the label! Not just the values but the ingredients. The closer to the beginning of the list is a higher amount in the product and toward the end is more of a trace amount in the product.
How can you be sure what you are about to consume from a packaged or dairy product? Read the label! Not just the values but the ingredients. The closer to the beginning of the list is a higher amount in the product and toward the end is more of a trace amount in the product.”
Tip 3: Cook & bake with healthy oils (liquids) vs. solids
As we discussed with fats, cholesterol can be found in the solid forms of oils. Butter, shortening are examples of cooking items that have cholesterol and saturated fat. Using olive oil helps with healthy fat and lower cholesterol consumption.
Remember to remove the fat from the pan after cooking a meat also. This will lower what actually gets consumed in your food.
Is there healthy cholesterol and unhealthy cholesterol?
Yes, there are. HDL cholesterol is considered “good.” This travels to the liver to get broken down and removed from the body – thus not sticking around in our arteries. LDL the “bad” cholesterol is the one that travels out from the liver through the arteries to the body and that is where it can get stuck – and over the long term, if there is just too much in the body it accumulates causing blockage with the fat.
We do need cholesterol, but our body will make it for us. It’s nearly impossible to avoid ALL dietary cholesterol (in our food), but the goal is to keep it very low every day as to not add more to our body that already makes plenty to sustain itself.
How do we know what’s OK in our food?
If you are reading a label and it has the daily value of less than 5% of your cholesterol that is a small amount if it’s more than 20% that is a large amount. The best way to do it, try to avoid it by choosing low fat or no fat products and eat more veggies and fruits vs. meat.
Love your meat but worried about your cholesterol? Try Meatless Monday. Start with one day, and enjoy some different meatless meals!
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