If you have been told by a doctor that you have high cholesterol, or know that you may develop high cholesterol in the future, knowing how best to monitor your body’s cholesterol levels can sometimes seem overwhelming . Controlling your cholesterol levels is crucial, however, as high cholesterol can lead to other health complications over time.
“Cholesterol is a naturally occurring and necessary substance in the body that’s used to make cells and regular hormones, among other things,” he says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, and consultant for Balance One Supplements. “However, too much cholesterol circulating in the body can be dangerous and put the individual at risk for heart disease and stroke.”
So what causes high cholesterol? Unfortunately, there are certain unavoidable factors that can play a role, such as genetics and age. But research has also found that lifestyle can also significantly affect your cholesterol levels.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that genetics play a bigger role in how the body processes cholesterol and in determining your risk of high cholesterol,” Best says increase.”
One of the most common myths or misconceptions about cholesterol and foods is that the foods with higher cholesterol are what you need to limit. However, dietary cholesterol actually has a lot less impact on your body’s cholesterol levels than people previously thought. Research from the Mayo Clinic suggests that a diet high in saturated and trans fats has a greater impact on your cholesterol than dietary cholesterol.
Read on to learn about certain foods that can secretly raise your cholesterol levels over time, and for more healthy eating tips, check out 7 Ugly Side Effects of Eating Red Meat Every Day.
Eating fried food regularly not only increases your fat and calorie consumption; it can also lead to higher cholesterol levels over time.
“Fried foods contain more fat than if they were prepared differently. They also often contain trans fats, which are bad for heart health,” says Best.
To avoid the added oils most commonly used in deep frying, try grilling or baking your food instead.
Baked goods, especially those that are pre-packaged and processed, often contain many ingredients that increase your cholesterol levels over time.
“These products are at risk of raising cholesterol levels, mainly because of their fat content and refined carbohydrates,” explains Best. “The type of carbohydrates used can increase blood triglycerides and cause inflammation in the body, ultimately increasing the risk of artery damage and a greater likelihood of cholesterol accumulation. And the cooking oils you use, like butter or shortening, can also raise blood cholesterol levels.”
It’s important to recognize this combination of refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. According to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, one of the biggest factors in your blood cholesterol levels isn’t the actual cholesterol in your diet, but rather comes from a combination of unhealthy fats and carbohydrates.
Processed red meat
Processed meats like sausage, charcuterie, and bacon are known to contain far more saturated fat and sodium than many other meats, making them particularly difficult for those watching their cholesterol levels.
According to a study published in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular DiseasesRegular consumption of processed meat was associated with a greater risk of elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
In general, past research has shown that consistent consumption of processed meat can negatively affect your heart health in ways that go beyond simply raising your cholesterol levels. For example, a 2021 report published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that daily consumption of processed meat was associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease.
BONUS: Excessive alcohol consumption
Some research has found that light alcohol consumption can benefit your heart health, but regular alcohol consumption is also linked to a possible increase in cholesterol levels. Overall, heavy drinking is one of the main factors in increasing your risk of problems that affect cardiovascular health, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. If you drink alcohol, it’s important to consider other lifestyle factors such as your overall diet and exercise regimen, genetic and medical history, etc. to ensure you drink alcohol responsibly and in moderation, if at all.
While it’s unlikely that consuming these foods and drinks as a one-time treat for a special occasion won’t immediately negatively impact your cholesterol levels, it’s evident that long-term, consistent consumption of these things can increase your cholesterol levels over time. However, monitoring and limiting the amount of fried foods, processed meats, processed baked goods, and alcohol you consume each day can help keep your cholesterol levels healthy. When combined with other healthy eating habits and nutritional plans that support a healthy lifestyle — including getting regular exercise and following your doctor’s recommendations based on your specific health needs — you can positively impact your cholesterol levels as well as your overall health.