Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. One of the major risk factors for heart disease is high total blood cholesterol. Therefore, many people want to know how to keep their cholesterol in a healthy range.
As a result, this brings us to one of the confusing topics of nutrition – because dietary cholesterol does not necessarily increase blood cholesterol. In this article, I am going to teach you the difference between dietary and blood cholesterol. In addition, I’m going to give you nutrition tips so you can decrease your total blood cholesterol and improve your heart health!
Dietary vs blood cholesterol
Did you know cholesterol is found in all animal tissues?
Blood cholesterol is what travels in your bloodstream with the help of carriers called HDL and LDL cholesterol. HDL is the healthy type that carries cholesterol away from your body tissues. LDL is the unhealthy type that deposits cholesterol in your tissues and arteries. This can eventually harden and block your arteries leading to heart disease, heart attack or stroke.
On the other hand, dietary cholesterol is found in animal products such as meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. Remember, there is no cholesterol in plant foods.
Dietary cholesterol recommendations
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting dietary cholesterol to 300mg per day. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of confusion because eggs, fish, and shellfish are healthy animal protein sources that contain over 100mg of cholesterol per serving.
One large study showed that eating eggs did not increase the risk of heart disease for men and women. More recent research has shown blood cholesterol increases more from saturated fats, trans fats, and certain types of carbohydrates. This is why the most recent 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans removed the cholesterol limit.
3 tips to decrease your dietary cholesterol
In order to decrease your blood cholesterol and your risk for heart disease, pay attention to your overall fat and carbohydrate intake instead of a specific cholesterol number. Here are thee tips to remember:
1) Decrease saturated fats and eliminate trans fats from your diet.
The American Heart Association recommends less than 5-6% of total calories per day from saturated fats. Foods with cholesterol that are also high in saturated fats include red meats and dairy products made from whole milk. Other foods Americans consume that are high in saturated fat include burgers, tacos, pizza, fried foods and rice.
Instead, replace your saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats like olive oils, fish and seafood, and nuts for the greatest benefit.
2) Choose healthier carbohydrates.
Added sugars and sweetened beverages can increase blood cholesterol. When your carbohydrate choices include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, your diet will be lower in added sugar and high in fiber. As a result, a high fiber diet can decrease your cholesterol by as much as 10 percent!
3) Don’t forget about the importance of exercise!
In particular, I’m talking about aerobic exercise! This is the type of exercise that increases your heart rate and breathing. In return, it increases your healthy HDL cholesterol and decreases your total blood cholesterol. Walking, swimming, bicycling, and dancing are all types of aerobic exercise.
For more tips and an individualized plan to decrease your heart disease risk, talk to your registered dietitian today!
- Hu, F. et. al (1999). A prospective study of egg consumption and cardiovascular disease risk in men and women. JAMA; 281(15). 1387-94 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10217054)