What are the worst foods for high-cholesterol individuals?

Do you have high cholesterol? If yes, try avoiding these foods to minimise your risk for heart disease.

Cholesterol facts

That white, waxy and insoluble substance we call cholesterol is actually beneficial for our bodies. It is a critical building block for our cell membranes, which regulate the entry and exit of substances in our cells. Our bodies also rely on it to produce vitamin D and bile.

But as the saying goes, too much of anything is not good for you. In the case of cholesterol, having an excessive amount of it in your blood increases your risk for heart attack, stroke or heart disease.

If you already have high cholesterol, particularly the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol type which can lead to clogged arteries, reducing your consumption of certain foods can go a long way in maintaining your optimal health.

What is high cholesterol, anyway?

Before we share with you the list of high-cholesterol foods to avoid, it is important to know first the generally-accepted and recommended range of cholesterol levels:

  • Maximum of 5.5 mmol/l (millimoles per litre): this only applies to individuals without any pre-existing health and coronary disease risk factors.
  • Less than 2 mmol/l: for individuals with high-risk factors such as cigarette/tobacco smokers and those with high blood pressure.

Around half of the adult Australian population exceed the 5.5 mmol/l maximum blood cholesterol recommendation, making high cholesterol a serious health issue here in Australia.

The following are the specific recommendations for individuals who have already been diagnosed with coronary heart disease (CHD):

  • Maximum of 1.8 mmol/l for LDL
  • Minimum of 1.0 mmol/l (equivalent to 40 mg/dl) for HDL or high-density lipoproteins. Known as the “good” cholesterol, this type helps remove the plaque build-up in your arteries, lowering your chances of developing CHD.
  • Maximum of 2.0 mmol/l for triglycerides. Triglycerides are a fatty substance found in our blood and used by our body for energy. Some evidence suggests that certain individuals with a higher number of triglycerides in their blood have a higher risk for CHD.

Generally, individuals are advised to keep their LDL levels low and their HDL levels high. However, a 2018 research study found that an extremely high HDL can also produce the same results that a low HDL can: a higher risk for heart attack and even death.

It is always best to consult your trusted healthcare provider to get an accurate and personalised recommendation of your specific LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels. The above-mentioned figures are for informational purposes only and are not intended to replace medical advice.

Take control of your cholesterol

A healthy liver is capable of producing all the cholesterol that your body needs. In other words, your body does not need any external sources of cholesterol. Regularly eating foods high in saturated fats – regarded as one of the unhealthy fats – as well as cholesterol can cause a spike in your LDL levels and boost your chances of suffering from CHD.

Not all foods contain cholesterol. All foods sourced from animals have it in one way or another. But all foods derived from plants, including beans, nuts, lentils, grains, peas, seeds, fruits and vegetables do not have cholesterol.

To ensure your heart health, reduce your consumption of the following foods rich in saturated fats. Note that the animal-derived foods on this list also contain cholesterol.

1. Fatty cuts of animal meat products including beef, lamb and pork. Examples are:

  • Bacon
  • Cold cuts
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausages
  • Salami
  • Other processed meats

2. Dairy foods that are high in fats. These include:

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sour cream
  • Whole milk

3. Some tropical oils and fats with high saturated fat content, such as:

  • Coconut oil
  • Lard. This pig-derived fat has almost 40g of saturated fat content per 100g serving.
  • Palm oil
  • Palm kernel oil

4. Takeaway foods such as pizza and burgers

5. Baked foods such as cakes and pastries

6. Deep-fried snacks and fast foods like potato chips and French fries

Cholesterol-friendly foods

Replacing the foods mentioned above with the ones on this list can help you maintain healthy levels of cholesterol in your blood. Note that these foods still contain cholesterol but have low saturated fat content.

  • Eggs. Depending on their size, the cholesterol content of eggs ranges from over 180 mg to more than 250 mg per serving. Limit yourself to a maximum of four eggs every week.
  • Lean meat including skinless chicken and pork chops with the fatty part removed.
  • Crustaceans and shellfish such as crabs, prawns and lobster. Eat up to two times a week only. 100 g of cooked crab meat has almost 170 mg of cholesterol, while 100g of canned crab meat immersed in brine has slightly more than 70 mg of cholesterol. 250 g of cooked lobster contains 275 mg of cholesterol.

Bivalve molluscs such as scallops, oysters, mussels, cockles and clams have low saturated fat and cholesterol content. They are a healthier alternative to shellfish crustaceans. Even individuals with high cholesterol can safely consume these specific types of molluscs.

Cholesterol-lowering foods

The following foods are recommended if you want to lower your blood cholesterol and get it to a healthy level:

1. Fibre-rich grains. These include:

  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Rye

2. Low-calorie vegetables such as eggplant and okra.

3. Nuts. Choose from:

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Walnuts

4. Soy-based foods like soy milk and tofu.

5. Vegetable oils such as:

  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Rice bran oil
  • Sunflower oil

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