4 foods not to eat if you have high cholesterol

These foods are notorious for raising levels of LDL cholesterol.

If you are like most adults in the United States, your blood cholesterol level is higher than it should be. Health experts continue to lower the optimal cholesterol numbers to prevent a heart attack or stroke. Whether or not you already take cholesterol-lowering medication, making some simple dietary changes can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease even more.

What foods lower cholesterol?

Certain foods help to keep your cholesterol levels in check. These foods lower cholesterol in various ways:

  • oats
  • barley and other whole grains
  • eggplant and okra
  • nuts
  • vegetable oils
  • apple, grapes, strawberries
  • foods fortified with sterols and stanols
  • soy
  • fatty fish
  • fiber supplements.

Keep in mind that not all high cholesterol foods are bad for you. For example, eggs are relatively high in cholesterol. But they don't raise cholesterol levels as much as saturated fats. And they're also packed with protein and other nutrients.

What foods cause high cholesterol?

It's the foods that are high in saturated fat that you need to worry about, because they can raise your cholesterol levels AND make you gain weight.

What are the worst foods for high cholesterol? Red meat, fried foods, and baked goods are notorious for raising levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the sticky kind that builds up in artery walls.

Here are 4 foods you'll want to avoid if you have high cholesterol:

1. Red meat. Beef, pork, and lamb are generally high in saturated fat. Cut of meat like hamburger, ribs, pork chops, and roasts are highest in fat. You don't have to avoid meat entirely, just eat it only on occasion. Limit yourself to the recommended 3-ounce portion size and stick to leaner cuts like sirloin, pork loin, or filet mignon.

Better yet, replace meat with proteins that are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, like skinless chicken or turkey breast, fish, and beans.

2. Fried foods. Foods that have taken a dip in the deep fryer, like chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, and onion rings are among the worst when it comes to cholesterol. Frying increases the energy density, or calorie count of foods.

If you love the crunch of fried food, use an air fryer and toss your food in a little bit of olive oil. Or bake foods like potato wedges and chicken at a high temperature until they're golden brown.

3. Processed meats. Hot dogs, sausage, and bacon use the fattiest cuts of red meat, and therefore tend to be high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Bacon and sausage made with turkey or chicken might seem healthier, and they are somewhat lower in cholesterol than the red meat versions, but they're not cholesterol-free.

4. Baked goods. Cookies, cakes, and pastry are often made with large quantities of butter and shortening, making them high in cholesterol. You don't have to give up dessert entirely, just make a few substitutions. When you bake, use applesauce or bananas in place of butter. Or have low-fat frozen yogurt topped with berries for dessert.

Image: sergeyskleznev/Getty Images

About the Reviewer

photo of Howard E. LeWine, MD

Howard E. LeWine, MD, Chief Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Howard LeWine is a practicing internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Chief Medical Editor at Harvard Health Publishing, and editor in chief of Harvard Men’s Health Watch. See Full Bio
View all posts by Howard E. LeWine, MD


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