Now that researchers know high-cholesterol foods don't raise blood cholesterol much, they're looking elsewhere, says Atlanta-based sports nutritionist Marie Spano. Sugar is the biggest enemy. According to Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, it may raise cholesterol and heart disease risk more than saturated fat. (That's why it's on our list of heart-harming foods.)
Meat is high-cholesterol food to avoid. Your body needs cholesterol to build cells and hormones. Lean, unprocessed red meat as part of a Mediterranean-style diet may improve heart health, according to research.
Spano says man-made trans fatty acids raise cholesterol and cause heart disease. Trans fats are still in a surprising number of bad cholesterol foods, including prepackaged baked goods, desserts, and chocolate. Avoid products with partially hydrogenated oils, says Spano.
Deep-frying foods in unhealthy oils increases the formation of trans fats, according to Food Chemistry research. Deep-fried foods to avoid with high cholesterol are also unhealthy or fatty, like fried chicken, mozzarella sticks, and donuts.
Simple carbohydrates without fibre cause inflammation and LDL cholesterol to rise. Overeating refined carbs like white rice, pasta, and bread can have the same effect as drinking soda, says New York dietitian Amy Shapiro.
Spano warns that most cereals contain refined carbohydrates and added sugars. In a Plos Biology study, people with healthy blood sugar levels developed prediabetes and diabetes after eating cereal with milk. Sugar is the main cause of fatty liver disease, which increases heart attack risk, according to the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Too much added sugar and starch can raise blood pressure, cause chronic inflammation, and raise triglycerides, HDL, and VLDL. Unsweetened oatmeal (steel-cut or slow-cooking types you can naturally sweeten) is heart-healthier due to its fibre.
Some health gurus recommend coconut oil, flour, and water despite their high saturated fat content. Any fat tends to raise HDL levels, but coconut oil seems especially effective. It's unproven, so eat it sparingly. One Harvard professor called coconut oil "poison."
Fast food is generally unhealthy and lacks nutrients, but it can be especially bad for cholesterol. People who eat fast food more than once a week have higher LDL and total cholesterol, according to a 2017 study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. Long-term, high LDL and total cholesterol levels may increase the risk of coronary artery disease by 10%. Salt in fast food raises blood pressure, another heart disease risk factor
Salads are healthy, but commercial salad dressings are high in cholesterol. Most have added sugar, says Spano. Label Insight found that 91% of the 4,200 dressings in their database contained added sugars; a 2-tablespoon serving could exceed daily sugar limits. Use oil, vinegar, or a homemade dressing.
The jury's still out on how much foods affect cholesterol levels—especially dairy. Aged cheddar and whole-fat yoghurt have little to no effect on blood cholesterol, says Spano. Moderate consumption is fine. Always eat more plant-based foods and fewer processed foods—a winning diet strategy. You'll thank yourself, says Spano. (Now that you know about bad cholesterol foods, see what cardiologists eat.)