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The Truth about your Diet and Cholesterol

posted Sep 10, 2018, 7:29 AM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Sep 25, 2018, 1:47 PM ]

By Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, LDN, E-RYT


What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is basically a fat in the blood.   We get cholesterol in the blood by eating animal-fat foods and it’s also made by the body. Cholesterol plays a role in our hormonal balance, as well as many cellular functions that are essential to keeping us healthy.  However, too much cholesterol in our bodies can cause a build-up of plaque in the arteries that can lead to cardiovascular disease.


Cholesterol and Your Health

The amount of cholesterol you have circulating in your blood can determine your cardiovascular health.  Cardiovascular health refers to the health of your arteries.   Imagine the arteries as pipes you have in your home.  Clear pipes provide you with fresh water and remove the waste from your home efficiently.  If pipes become clogged with excess residue or rust, the water will not be as fresh, nor will the waste water drain well.  Similarly, your body is lined with pipes we call arteries, which line organs including the heart and brain.

Blood that flows through the arteries carry nutrients and oxygen to the cells within the vital tissues and organs in our body and removes carbon dioxide and other toxins from these tissues.   Our lifestyle, and what we eat and drink, as well as exposure to toxic chemicals such as tobacco, determine the integrity of our arteries.  If arteries become clogged, blood flow is restricted and can result in a heart attack or stroke.


Why worry about Cholesterol in the blood when you have no symptoms?

High cholesterol does not have any symptoms, so many people are unaware that their levels may be high.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, (CDC), cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a leading cause of death among Americans over 18 years of age.  Nearly 800,000 people die in the United States each year from cardiovascular disease (1 in every 3 deaths).   Having high cholesterol is one of the risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease.  Other risk factors include high blood pressure, genetics, having diabetes, and a waist circumference of over 35 inches for women and over 45 for men.   


Diet and Cholesterol

Eating cholesterol-rich foods, such as eggs, has been reported to put one at risk for high cholesterol.  This has led to dietary recommendations of no more than 300 milligrams per day for healthy Americans.  However, recent studies challenge the current dietary cholesterol restrictions and find that consuming dietary cholesterol does not increase the risk of heart disease.   Elevated cholesterol in the body is tied to overall fat intake, specifically, saturated fat and trans fats, as well as sugary foods.  So, don’t give up those eggs for breakfast, just yet!   Eggs once got a bad rap in previous studies, which did not look at the daily intake of saturated fat from other foods.  However, eggs are rich in healthy nutrients, including choline and Vitamin A, as well as being low in saturated fat (1.56 grams) and containing healthy unsaturated fats.    Eating one egg a day has actually been reported to increase good cholesterol (HDL), and not raise LDLs, according to research from The City University of New York’s School of Public Health and Health Policy.


3 Main Fats in the Blood that influence Cardiovascular health

Total cholesterol is the sum of blood fats circulating in your blood, which is LDL, HDL, and Triglycerides.   

LDL (Lousy Cholesterol):  Considered "Bad Cholesterol".  A build-up of this cholesterol can clog your arteries.  Frequently eating large portion sizes of foods that are high in fat, and especially high in saturated fat.

HDL (Happy Cholesterol):   Considered "Good Cholesterol".  Removes bad cholesterol from the bloodstream and helps keep arteries clear. If LDL is high and HDL is low, this puts one at risk for a heart attack and stroke.      

Triglycerides (Trouble Fat):  When triglycerides are elevated it signals "Trouble" in the body and can cause damage to the arteries.  Triglycerides form in the body when we consume more calories than we use up.  Triglycerides are also elevated in individuals who have high blood sugars.   If you have very high triglycerides, make sure to talk to your doctor about being tested for pre-diabetes or diabetes.


Translating the Cholesterol Numbers to The Foods We Eat

It’s not enough to know your numbers, but what you do with those numbers is what counts.  Reviewing your cholesterol numbers with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian is key to understanding what actions to take.   Here is a guide to help you on your way to healthy cholesterol numbers:



Nutrition Recommendations



Healthy Range

Foods to Eat Less of or Avoid

Foods and Beverages to Include

Suggested Actions to Take

Total Cholesterol

Less Than 200


LDL (when elevated can clog arteries). 

Less than 100



Limit Saturated Fat (Fatty meats Red meat, skin on chicken, pork chops, butter, whole fat milk, and cheese)

Skinless chicken breast, salmon, whole grains with soluble fiber(oats, barley),  beans,  vegetables, avocado, flaxseed, walnuts.  olive oil, green tea, spices (curcumin).

Herb: Red yeast rice acts as a cholesterol-lowering statin, however, check with your doctor to see if it's right for you.

·       Quit smoking

·       Exercise (30 minutes daily)

·       Stress management


HDL (helps get rid of the bad cholesterol).

Greater than 

40 for men

50 for women



 Hydrogenated oils (Trans Fats);

  Excess alcohol

Omega-3 rich foods including Salmon, sardines, sea bass, olive oil, walnuts.

*Red Wine (Some studies report an increase in good cholesterol with a daily serving size.  5oz wine is a serving size).  However, a healthy diet and exercise are more beneficial for well-being and cardiovascular health than wine.

·       Exercise (30 minutes daily)

·       Quit Smoking


Triglycerides (when elevated, damages arteries).

Less than 150

High sugary foods and beverages, excess alcohol, 

Omega-rich foods, such as Salmon, Soy (tofu, soymilk), olive oil, walnuts.


·       Quit smoking

·       Cut back on alcohol

·       Cut back on sugary foods and beverages.

*Alcohol should be consumed in moderation and can be an addictive substance in certain individuals.

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