Cholesterol Shockers

Foods Labeled ‘Low Cholesterol’

Chicken Dish with BroccoliWhen you’re shopping and you see an item that says it’s low in cholesterol, you still need to check the nutrition label. If it’s high in saturated fat, it can raise your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Also check the serving size. It might be smaller than you think, and if you eat too much, you’ll get more cholesterol than you realized.

Coffee

Your morning cup of joe just might give your cholesterol level an unwanted jolt. French press or Turkish coffee lets through cafestol, which raises levels of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. Espresso does too, but serving sizes are small, so there’s less to worry about.  If you drink drip coffee, you’re in the clear. The filter catches cafestol, so stick to drip.

Thai Takeout

Thai food is spicy and delicious, but it can raise your cholesterol if you don’t choose carefully. The secret ingredient? Coconut milk. It makes curries smooth, and it’s high in saturated fat. Scan the menu instead for stir fries or noodle dishes, and ask to have your dinner steamed or made with vegetable oil. Choose chicken rather than beef, throw in some extra veggies, and enjoy your takeout guilt-free.

Granola

Do you hear “granola” and think “health food”?  That chewy, crunchy goodness often comes with a hefty serving of saturated fat. Even brands of “low-fat” granola can be higher in saturated fat than some other kinds of cereal. A whole-grain cereal topped with fresh fruit may be a better choice.

Shrimp

You’ve probably heard seafood is a good choice when you’re watching cholesterol. That’s true, but shrimp is an exception. One serving, even if you cook it without fat, has about 190 milligrams of cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends limiting cholesterol to 300 milligrams per day, or 200 milligrams per day if you have heart disease or high cholesterol. Try the scallops instead. They have less than a quarter of the cholesterol of shrimp.

Flour Tortillas

To build a better taco, you have to start with the foundation. Flour tortillas — even the whole wheat ones — may sound like the best choice, but they’re not. They’re higher in saturated fat than corn tortillas. (Assuming you don’t fry your corn tortillas in oil, of course.) Start with a corn tortilla (check the label to make sure it wasn’t made with lard) and add those healthy toppings: grilled chicken, juicy tomatoes, and chopped lettuce.

Organ meats

“Nose to tail” eating may be trendy in the restaurant world, but it could leave your cholesterol trending up. Organ meats such as liver, kidneys, and sweetbreads are higher in cholesterol than other cuts of meat. Beef liver is high in iron, though there are other foods that aren’t organs that give you iron. Enjoying a 3-ounce portion once a month is OK. 

Stick Margarine

Butter vs. margarine can be a tricky choice. Both have saturated fats and should be used sparingly. But here’s the easy part: If you’re using margarine, choose soft tub margarine rather than the stick variety. Tub varieties are lower in fats and are better for your LDL or “bad” cholesterol level. Read the nutrition label, and look for one low in saturated fats and with no trans fat.

Pasta

The Mediterranean diet is supposed to be good for lowering cholesterol, right? And it is, as long as you make the right choices. Think marinara or marsala, not meatballs, and linguine with clams, not lasagna. As long as you steer clear of sauces with butter or cream bases and avoid pastas stuffed with meat or cheeses, pasta can be a healthy part of your diet. Just don’t eat too much.

Energy Bars

They’re marketed for people who work out, so energy bars have to be a good choice, right? Maybe. Check the nutrition label. You might be surprised at the amount of saturated fat in some. Look out for those with tropical oils like palm oil and palm kernel oil, which add saturated fat.

Ghee

Indian food can be a fine choice, but only if you hold the ghee. What is ghee? It’s clarified butter — and that means saturated fats and cholesterol. How much? One tablespoon of ghee has 33 milligrams of cholesterol, about 11% of the recommended daily amount.  It’s a staple of Indian cooking, so if you’re eating out, ask your server how much ghee is in your dish, and if you’re cooking, check the recipe to make sure it fits your diet.

Duck

If chicken and turkey are good low-cholesterol choices, duck should be too, right? Not so. Duck and goose are both higher in cholesterol than chicken and turkey. One cup of cooked duck or goose — even with the skin removed — has about 128 milligrams of cholesterol. The same portion of chicken has only 113 milligrams of cholesterol, and turkey is an even better choice at 93 milligrams.

Some Dairy Products

How many times did Mom tell you to finish your milk because it was good for you? She’s right: Dairy helps you get the calcium and vitamin D you need. Just look for fat-free and low-fat versions, which deliver the nutrients without the same amount of cholesterol. You can also switch yogurt for sour cream in recipes to further cut the saturated fat and cholesterol.

© 2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Tips for Good Cholesterol

How to Boost Your ‘Good’ Cholesterol

At the risk of sounding like a certain 20-something socialite, High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is hot! Advances in research have brought more attention to the blood lipid (or fat) we often call “good” cholesterol.

“Good” cholesterol doesn’t refer to the cholesterol we eat in food, but rather to the high-density lipoprotein cholesterol circulating in our blood. It’s one of the fats measured in the lipid panel blood test doctors perform. And it’s the component you want more of, because a higher HDL is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Experts from the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) note that although LDL or “bad” cholesterol has gotten most of the attention, there’s growing evidence that HDL plays an important role.

Facts About “Good” Cholesterol

  • HDL cholesterol normally makes up 20%-30% of your total blood cholesterol.
  • There is evidence that HDL helps protect against the accumulation of plaques (fatty deposits) in the walls of coronary arteries.
  • Research suggests that a five-point drop in HDL cholesterol is linked to a 25% increase in heart disease risk.
  • In prospective studies — that is, studies that follow participants for a period of time to watch for events like heart attacks or death from heart disease — HDL usually proves to be the lipid risk factor most linked to heart disease risk.
  • HDL cholesterol levels are thought to be impacted by genetics.
  • Women typically have higher HDL cholesterol levels than men. About a third of men and about a fifth of women have HDL levels below 40 mg/dL. Doctors consider levels of less than 40 mg/dL to be low.

Researchers from the Netherlands who analyzed 60 studies concluded that the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL (in which your total cholesterol number is divided by your HDL number) is a better marker for coronary artery disease than LDL measurement alone.

“Boosting HDL is the next frontier in heart disease prevention,” says P.K. Shah, MD, director of cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Shah says that if the new drugs designed to increase HDL levels prove effective, they could potentially reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes by 80% to 90% — and save millions of lives. HDL-boosting drugs are now being tested.

How Does HDL Cholesterol Help Your Heart?

Experts aren’t yet sure exactly how HDL cholesterol helps reduce the risk of heart disease. But a few possibilities have emerged.

The NCEP says that high HDL levels appear to protect against the formation of plaques in the artery walls (a process called atherogenesis), according to studies in animals.

Lab studies, meanwhile, suggest that HDL promotes the removal of cholesterol from cells found in plaques, or lesions, in the arteries.

“Recent studies indicate that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of HDL also inhibit atherogenesis,” says the NCEP report.

8 Ways to Increase HDL Cholesterol

What many people don’t know is that some diet and lifestyle changes may help to increase HDL cholesterol levels, although to a small extent.

Here are some of the contenders:

1. Orange Juice. Drinking three cups of orange juice a day increased HDL levels by 21% over three weeks, according to a small British study (at 330 calories, that’s quite a nutritional commitment). This study could be highlighting an effect from high-antioxidant fruits and vegetables. Stay tuned in the years to come.

2. Glycemic Load. The glycemic load is basically a ranking of how much a standard serving of a particular food raises your blood sugar. And as the glycemic load in your diet goes up, HDL cholesterol appears to go down, according to a small recent study. Along these lines, the NCEP report recommends that most of our carbohydrate intake come from whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and fat-free and low-fat dairy products. These foods tend to be on the lower end of the glycemic scale.

3. Choosing Better Fats. Replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats can not only help reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol, it may also increase levels of “good” cholesterol, according to the Food & Fitness Advisor newsletter from Cornell University’s Center for Women’s Healthcare.

4. Soy. When substituted for animal-based products, soy foods may have heart health benefits. Soy products are low in saturated fats and high in unsaturated fats. Soy products are also high in fiber. An analysis found that soy protein, plus the isoflavones found in soy “raised HDL levels 3%, which could reduce coronary heart disease risk about 5%,” says Mark Messina, PhD, a nationally known soy expert. Messina notes that soy also may lead to a small reduction in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (another type of blood fat), and a possible enhancement in blood vessel function. Other studies have shown a decrease in LDL cholesterol (about 3%) and triglycerides (about 6%) with about three servings of soy a day. That adds up to 1 pound of tofu, or three soy shakes. Further research should focus on whether a higher soy diet intervention is associated with a reduction in heart disease risk.

5. Alcohol in Moderation. Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol is associated with a higher level of HDL. Alcohol is also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women.

6. Aerobic exercise. Moderately intense exercise of at least 30 minutes on most days of the week is the exercise prescription that can help raise your HDL, according to many health care professionals.

7. Stopping smoking. Experts agree that kicking the habit can increase your HDL numbers a bit, too.

8. Losing weight. Being overweight or obese contributes to low HDL cholesterol levels, and is listed as one of the causes of low HDL, according to the NCEP.

© 2011 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.