The Foods to Avoid High Cholesterol Probably Aren’t What You Think

It seems counterintuitive that eating fat might help remove the fat from your bloodstream, but that’s actually true. The diet gurus who told us that we could eat butter, bacon, and rib eye steaks and lower our cholesterol, however, probably were fibbing.

Over 100 clinical studies have found two surprising things:

  1. Going on a low-fat diet, if you are overweight, lowers HDL cholesterol and raises bloodstream fat levels (as fat is let out of your fat cells to make up for your consuming fewer fats and fewer calories).
  2. Eating foods that are high in monounsaturated fatty acids raises HDL cholesterol and keeps bloodstream fats at lower levels.

Studies conducted under the auspices of the American Heart Association have found that following a low-fat diet lowers risk of cardiovascular disease by about 12%. Following a lower-calorie but higher-fat diet with the addition of peanut oil lowers risk of cardiovascular disease about 16%. When peanuts, rather than peanut oil, are the source of added unsaturated fat, the reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease is about 21%. And when olive oil is the source of added fat in an otherwise low-calorie diet, the reduction of risk of cardiovascular disease is about 25%.

How can you add fat to your diet while lowering calories? You don’t eat as much of other foods. Usually this just means cutting out fried foods, and getting your fats in the form of salad dressings or sauces you pour over vegetables. If you eat bread, olive oil can be used instead of butter.

It is not especially important to avoid high-cholesterol foods such as eggs. That is because only about 15 per cent of cholesterol comes from food, and 85 per cent of cholesterol is made from excess fats and sugars. The kind of fat in peanuts, peanut oil, and olive oil, however, is harder for the liver to turn into cholesterol, and also harder for fat cells to store.

So, if you eat healthy fats, can you just eat as much as you want? No! One of the uses of cholesterol in the human body is as an energy source. If you eat more total fats and carbs than your body needs, your cholesterol is likely to go up. You may not have to avoid all fat, but do have to avoid overeating.

Other studies have found similar benefits from macadamia nut oil, macadamias, almonds, and walnuts, up to 300 calories a day of any of these foods (not 300 calories a day of each). Think of these nuts as “good cholesterol food.” Use high-quality plant oils for flavor and texture, avoid fat from meats, and see if your LDL goes down and your HDL goes up. The foods in your low-cholesterol diet to avoid high cholesterol are not necessarily all fat-free.

There is one other benefit to eating nuts. They help with weight control. Research studies, most of them done in Australia, have found that adding a “handful” (up to 3-1/2 oz/100 g) of almonds or macadamias to the diet every day, without eliminating any other food, helps control cholesterol and lower weight. The effects are not spectacular, only about 1 pound (500 g) per month. But nuts are one way to eat more and weigh less, even while lowering cholesterol.

Selected References:

Montalto MB, Bensadoun A. Lipoprotein lipase synthesis and secretion: effects of concentration and type of fatty acids in adipocyte cell culture. J Lipid Res 1993;34:397-407.

Reaven PD, Parthasarathy S, Grasse BJ, Miller E, Steingerg D, Witztum JL. Effects of oleate-enriched and linoleate-enriched diets on the susceptibility of low-density lipoprotein to oxidative modification and hypercholesterolemic subjects. J Clin Invest 1993;91:668-76.