When you have high cholesterol or you are working to keep your numbers in check, some foods need to be avoided or eaten sparingly.
Interestingly, brain health experts recommend avoiding these same foods because they’re linked to increased risks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Read on to see which foods are worth skipping.
The Dangers of High Cholesterol
Almost 94 million Americans over age 20 have high cholesterol, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – about 38% of the population. Unfortunately, 7% of children ages 6-19 also have high total cholesterol.
Cholesterol is essential for life and made by every animal’s cells but too much of it increases health risks like heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in America and worldwide.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is called “bad cholesterol” because it can build up in blood vessels, clogging them and forming clots that can lead to heart attack and stroke. Alternately, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is considered “good cholesterol” because it collects LDL from the arteries and brings it back to the liver for disposal.
Total cholesterol is the sum of both LDL and HDL, measured in milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dL). Healthy levels total less than 200 mg/dL. Of the 94 million people with high cholesterol, two thirds have borderline high numbers 200-240 mg/dL and the other third have numbers over 240 mg/DL. Learn more about blood lipids here.
Most of the cholesterol we need is made by liver and intestines. It’s okay to have some cholesterol in your diet, but certain foods, like those high in saturated fats, are known to raise LDL levels. The American Heart Association recommends that only 5-6% of your calories come from saturated fat. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, then the saturated fat limit is 100-120 calories or about 13 grams. That requires seriously limiting these foods!
Foods to Avoid or Eat Sparingly
Red meat – Meat including beef, pork, and lamb are high in saturated fat with roasts, hamburger, ribs, and pork chops being the fattiest. The recommended limit of these meats is one or two 3-ounce servings a week, with leaner cuts preferred. Fish, skinless chicken or turkey breast, and beans offer protein with much less saturated fat and cholesterol.
Processed meats – Processed meats are high in saturated fat and sodium, while low in nutrition. It’s best to skip foods like hot dogs, sausage, and bacon or try turkey or chicken options.
Fried foods – Fried foods are high in saturated fat and cholesterol because of the oil they’re fried in, which may also be a trans fat like partially hydrogenated oil. Trans fats are also in margarine, shortening, frosting, coffee creamers, and snack foods. Try air frying with olive oil to get that crunch of fried food without the fats.
Full fat dairy – Sorry cheese lovers, but full-fat dairy is high in saturated fat and cheese is typically high in sodium as well. A recommended cheese limit is 3 ounces a week. Healthy swaps include using olive oil instead of butter whenever possible and buying non-fat or low-fat dairy products.
Baked goods and treats – Baked goods are packed with sugar, cholesterol, saturated fats, and in many cases, trans fats. When you make treats at home, you can use natural, non-refined sweeteners like honey or maple syrup and cut the amount of sweetener altogether. Applesauce may also be substituted for sugar, oil, or eggs.
Limiting These Also Keeps the Brain Healthy
In addition to helping keep your cholesterol levels down, avoiding or limiting these foods can also lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that eating foods high in sugar and saturated or trans fats increase the risks of Alzheimer’s.
Additionally, foods that create pathogenic compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are also considered harmful to the brain. AGEs or glycotoxins are inflammatory substances resulting from processing food with high heat.
What happens is a protein molecule binds abnormally to a glucose molecule and disrupts normal functioning inside cells and between cells. Recent studies suggest that AGEs alter intracellular signaling, gene expression, and the release of free radicals and pro-inflammatory molecules. AGEs increase risks of heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, high blood pressure, and chronic inflammation. They also contribute to diabetic complications.
Meat, dairy products, fatty foods, processed foods, and fried foods have high levels of AGEs. Plus, the more processed a food is, the higher its AGE level. So even commercially roasted nuts have thousands of AGEs per serving.
Your body can eliminate some AGEs, but too many build up in the body and may lead to serious health problems. Learn more about AGEs here.
Whether your goal is heart health, brain health, or overall health, cut back on these foods and eat more foods that are low in AGEs, saturated fat, and sugar – like vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains.