What you eat affects your cholesterol levels. You probably already know you shouldn't overdo butter or high-fat meats. But some of the foods that you should limit may surprise you.
Even when ground turkey is labeled as 85% lean, it has 12.5 grams of fat in a 3-ounce portion, says Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, Georgia State University nutrition professor emerita. Her advice: Ground turkey breast can be a heart-healthy substitute for ground beef, but watch the portion size because of the fat. Choose ground meat -- whether it's turkey or beef -- that's at least 90% lean.
Added sugars, such as table sugar or high fructose corn syrup, are linked to lower levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 100 calories (6 teaspoons) from added sugars per day for women and 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men.
The potatoes aren't the problem -- it's the other ingredients. "Most mashed potatoes, especially at restaurants, include hefty portions of butter, cream, whole milk, sour cream, and/or cream cheese, turning a perfectly healthy potato into a saturated fat bomb," says nutrition consultant Marisa Moore, RD. Order a plain baked potato and top it with vegetables, salsa, or low-fat sour cream.
It's delicious, but cheese and meat toppings add a lot of fat. Stick to one slice, go easy on the cheese, and top it with lots of high-fiber, filling vegetables.
Whole-Fat Dairy Products
"Dairy foods are nutrient-rich, loaded with calcium, protein, vitamins, and minerals. But if your choice is full-fat, you could be getting a hefty dose of saturated fat," says nutrition consultant Elizabeth Ward, RD. When you choose nonfat or low-fat, you get all the nutritional benefits without the extra calories or fat. If you love full-fat cheese, "portion control is the answer," Ward says.
Coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter are plant foods that have saturated fat. "Read labels for these terms, and enjoy them in small doses so they won't sabotage your cholesterol level," says Washington University nutrition director Connie Diekman, RD.
Ghee (Clarified Butter)
Ghee is part of a traditional Indian diet, but it's very high in saturated fat. "It is also high in palmitic acid, which is artery-clogging," says Columbia University nutrition researcher Wahida Karmally, RD. If it works for your recipe, use olive oil or a trans fat-free margarine instead of ghee. If not, limit how much ghee you use.
Pie and Pastries
"Flaky crusts, streusel topping, custard filling, cheese-filled pastries -- these all promise a hefty dose of saturated fat, because they often include butter, shortening, cream, cream cheese, and/or whole milk," Moore says. It's the butter or shortening that makes the crust so nice and flaky. Choose fruit pies and eat mostly filling and only a few bites of the crust for a lower-fat and calorie treat.
Movie Theater Tub Popcorn
If it's popped in fats, then topped off with more fat, that's a problem. Shave the fat and calories by skipping the buttery topping, and opt for a smaller portion.
3 Cooking Tips
The way you prepare foods can also affect your cholesterol level.
Diekman shares three tips:
- Avoid fried foods.
- Remove extra fat from meats, and skin from poultry, before cooking.
- Use nonstick pans, cooking spray, or small amounts of vegetable oil when you're preparing food.