Want to maintain a healthy heart and brain? Keep an eye on your cholesterol numbers.
LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol builds up in the arteries and forms plaque that blocks blood flow to the brain. HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol picks up LDL and brings it to the liver to be processed.
Optimal levels vary from person to person, so always check with your doctor first.
As a cardiologist who treats patients with high cholesterol, I always try to use food first as medicine. Here are the four worst foods for high cholesterol — and what I eat instead to keep my heart healthy:
1. Red meat
Yes, this includes burgers, ribs, steak, and pork chops. If you don’t want to completely cut out red meat, focus on small amounts of lean meat. And by small, I mean a serving of up to three ounces — and eat red meat no more than once a week.
Remember that poultry also contains saturated fat, so avoiding red meat doesn’t necessarily mean you have to fill up on chicken.
When it comes to meat alternatives, I’m generally skeptical of processed foods. For me, plants were never made to bleed.
What to eat instead: Consider fish and shellfish. Shrimp may be high in cholesterol, but as long as you don’t drizzle them with butter, they’ll provide you with plenty of protein while leaving your blood cholesterol alone.
Some other delicious lean protein options are white fish like tilapia, halibut, cod, and sea bass.
2. Anything fried
Frying foods generally increases the calorie count because saturated or trans fats and cholesterol are absorbed from the food in the process.
What to eat instead: Cook potatoes, kale, or broccoli until crisp when you crave a bite. Or, you can invest in an air fryer, which uses far less fat.
3. Processed meat
The World Health Organization has classified processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs and salami as carcinogens. Processed meat is also loaded with sodium and saturated fat.
What to eat instead: Fake bacon is unlikely to satisfy your BLT cravings. My advice? Reduce these products and make treats for special occasions.
4. Baked goods
Mass-produced cookies, cakes, and pastries are often calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, and contain high amounts of fat (especially saturated fats like butter and shortening) and sugar. All of these are major culprits of high cholesterol.
What to eat instead: Cook at home and control the amount and type of fat and sugar you use.
Dr. Elizabeth Klodas is a cardiologist and founder of Stage One Foods. Trained at the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins, Dr. Klodas has published dozens of scientific papers throughout her career, written a book for patients, “Kill the Giant: The Power of Prevention to Beat Heart Disease,″ and was a founding editor of Cardiosmart.org.
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