Researchers have learned a lot about cholesterol since the days when doctors warned patients to stay off eggs and oil-laden foods. While those foods contain cholesterol, eating them will not significantly raise cholesterol levels in the blood.
Cholesterol comes in different kinds of protein-containing particles, including high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs).
The cholesterol theory of heart disease is that certain particles, such as LDLs and VLDLs break off and clog arteries, resulting in atherosclerosis.
Recently, some researchers have been calling for testing a more accurate marker which is a blood protein known as apolipoprotein B (apoB). While previous cholesterol markers just show the amount of lipid in the blood, ApoB provides a direct measure of cholesterol-carrying particles.
Diet still matters
It may surprise you to learn that half of all heart attacks happen in people with normal cholesterol. A groundbreaking study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at ten thousand people who had suffered heart attacks and saw elevated blood levels of a protein associated with inflammation known as C-reactive protein or CRP.
They administered an anti-inflammatory drug to some and a placebo to others; the anti-inflammatory group saw 37 percent less inflammation and 15 percent fewer cardiovascular events (such as heart attacks) compared with the placebo group.
Here are worst foods for your cholesterol you should be wary of if you want to live a long and healthy life:
Now that researchers know high-cholesterol foods don’t actually raise cholesterol, they had to look to other culprits. Public enemy number one turns out to be sugar. It is even worse than saturated fat in raising cholesterol and overall heart disease risk. A diet high in sugar and sweetened beverages like soda are a major source—drives up bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (another type of blood fat), while depressing levels of good HDL cholesterol.
Processed red meat
You may not realize that your body needs some cholesterol—it’s put to use building cells and crucial hormones.
According to a new research, lean and unprocessed red meat, when eaten as part of a Mediterranean-style diet, may improve heart health. This study is important because it shows that red meat can be part of a heart-healthy eating pattern. The consumption of processed meats, but not red meats, is associated with higher incidence of chronic heart disease. Adults who are overweight or moderately obese could benefit from a Mediterranean-style diet with or without red meat as long as the red meats were lean and unprocessed.
Man made trans-fatty acids raise cholesterol and independently contribute to heart disease risks. And while many manufacturers have removed or are in the process of removing trans-fats, they still pop up in a surprising number of products: Prepackaged baked goods, desserts, even some types of chocolates contain trans-fats. Read labels and avoid anything with partially hydrogenated oils listed among the ingredients.
The oils used to fry or deep-fry foods are often high in unhealthy fats, and research shows that cooking food in these oils at high temperatures induces chemical reactions that increase the formation of trans-fats. Deep-fried foods also tend to be unhealthy or fatty to begin with. Think of fried chicken, fried mozzarella sticks, and donuts, for example—making them a double threat.
White bread, rice, pasta
When you eat simple carbohydrates that are stripped of fiber your body breaks them down just like sugar, and both inflammation and LDL cholesterol rise as a result. Overeating refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white-flour pasta, and white bread can have the same effect on your body as drinking soda. Eating foods that contain fiber can actually help lower inflammation in some surprising ways.
Not only are most cereals made of refined carbohydrates, but cold breakfast cereals also tend to pack in the added sugars. In one recent study, people who had healthy blood sugar levels entered pre-diabetic and diabetic levels after eating one bowl of cereal with milk. Other research points at sugar as the chief cause of fatty liver disease, which increases heart attack risk.
Eating too much added sugar and starch over time can also raise blood pressure, increase chronic inflammation, and lead to high triglycerides, low HDL, and high amounts of VLDL.
Unsweetened oatmeal (look for steel-cut or slow-cooking types that you can sweeten naturally) is a heart-healthier choice, thanks to all the fiber it delivers. And if you have been avoiding eggs because you thought they raise cholesterol, check again.
While generally lacking in nutrients and not good for you, fast food can have an especially insidious effect on cholesterol.
A 2017 study found that people who ate fast food more than once a week suffered a significant increase in LDL and total cholesterol compared to levels in people who rarely ate it.
Study authors said that over the long term, the elevated LDL and total cholesterol levels could raise the study subjects’ risk of coronary artery disease by 10 percent.
Salt is also abundant in fast food, and it raises blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease. And if the fast food meal includes a soft drink, that’s a triple threat, as consuming too much sugar can cause obesity, and risk of heart disease increases as weight and waist circumference do. If you just can’t resist the lure of your favorite fast-food joints, at least be aware of healthier options.
Bottled salad dressings
Salads are supposedly healthy, but not if you drizzle them in a commercial salad dressing as most contain a surprising amount of added sugar. In fact, many salad dressings contain added sugars; worse, a single two-tablespoon serving could exceed daily sugar limits. Stick with oil and vinegar or a do it yourself (DIY) dressing.
Some research indicates that things like milk and yogurt, even though they are whole fat, have little to no effect on blood cholesterol. In general, it’s fine to consume these foods in moderation.
As always, try to get more plant-based and fewer processed foods into your diet on a regular basis as this is an undisputed winning dietary strategy. Your heart will thank you for this in the long run.