Eating Meat When You Have High Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body needs to function properly. Cholesterol is normally present in your blood and also in the foods we eat, like red meat. But when the body produces too much or when cholesterol levels are too high, your risk of coronary heart disease increases. That's because high cholesterol levels contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. With atherosclerosis, plaque builds up on the inside of your arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.
It's important to know your cholesterol levels. Government guidelines suggest that healthy adults get their cholesterol levels tested every five years. Genetic factors can influence the level of cholesterol in your blood. But so does what you eat and other lifestyle habits you have. Here's information you can use to help you manage your cholesterol level through diet.
What Is LDL Cholesterol?
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the "bad" cholesterol. Elevated LDL levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. A high level of LDL cholesterol can cause plaque to form in the walls of your arteries. The higher the LDL cholesterol, the greater the chances are that the plaque can rupture from the artery's wall, triggering a heart attack.
What Is HDL Cholesterol?
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the "good" cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol. In doing so, it reduces your risk of heart attack. Conversely, low levels of HDL cholesterol put you at risk of heart disease.
How Does Diet Affect High Cholesterol?
Your diet, lifestyle habits, and other conditions all influence your cholesterol levels.
The amount and type of fat in your diet can make a major difference in your risk of heart disease. For instance, saturated fats come from animal foods as well as coconut and palm oil. A diet high in saturated fats can produce high blood cholesterol. That increases your risk of heart attack. In addition, trans fats -- found in some margarine, baked goods, pastries, and snack foods -- and dietary cholesterol found in meat, especially red meat, increase LDL cholesterol levels.
Genetic factors combined with dietary saturated fat, trans fats, and cholesterol is the main reason for high levels of cholesterol. Reducing the amount of bad fats you eat is an important step in reducing your blood cholesterol levels. Increasing the amount of good fats, such as monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat, is also part of a cholesterol-lowering diet.
Plant foods -- including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds -- have almost no cholesterol. In fact, vegetarians, those who eat a plant-based diet with no red meat or poultry, often have lower cholesterol and triglyceride blood levels than people who eat a diet high in meat and poultry.
Can Diet Lower High Cholesterol?
Dietary changes can lower high LDL cholesterol. To make them work, the National Cholesterol Education Program recommends making "Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes" -- TLC -- that include the following:
- Get less than 7% of your calories from saturated fats, and eat less than 200 milligrams a day of cholesterol. Avoid eating foods high in saturated fats, including red meat, cheese, whole milk, and butter.
- Get 25% to 35% of daily calories from fat, mainly from unsaturated fat. Choose monounsaturated fat -- found in olive oil and most margarine -- for the greater part of that fat. Then the rest, about 10% of the calories, should come from polyunsaturated fat that's found in fish as well as corn and cottonseed oils.
- Keep consumption of trans fats -- found in some margarine, baked goods, pastries -- as low as possible.
- Eat only enough calories to maintain a healthy weight; avoid weight gain.
- Increase the soluble fiber in your diet if your LDL cholesterol is not lowered by reducing cholesterol, trans fats, and saturated fat intake. Foods high in soluble fiber include acorn squash, apples, baked potatoes, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, citrus, dates, dried beans and lentils, prunes, and strawberries.
- Add foods that contain plant stanols and sterols to boost your efforts to lower LDL cholesterol.
In addition to the TLC recommendations, here are more suggestions:
- Select meat, poultry, and milk products that are lean, low-fat, or fat-free.
- Trim any visible fat from meat or poultry before cooking.
- Instead of frying meats, chicken, or fish, broil, boil, bake, grill, steam, or saute them in a defatted broth.
- Organ meats, such as liver, are especially high in cholesterol content. Foods of plant origin contain almost no cholesterol. Add more whole grains and foods with added fiber, which can help lower cholesterol.
- Check the nutrition facts label to know if bad fats are in the food you eat.