What you eat plays a role in your cholesterol levels, but not in the way you might think.
Most people believe that there is a straight line between cholesterol-rich foods and blood cholesterol levels. But this isn’t entirely true. Your risk for heart disease isn’t necessarily determined by how much cholesterol you eat but rather by what else you consume.
There’s a reason why people think this way: in the 1960s, health professionals drew that line, leading to a war on foods with cholesterol. Eggs, dairy, seafood, and fresh meats became the enemy.
But more recent work suggests that isn’t really how it works. Although some foods that are high in saturated fat maintain some links to elevated LDL, like red meat (mainly processed), the links are not as strong as you might think.
Your cholesterol levels ultimately depend on what else you’re eating. If you’re eating a lot of processed foods and sugar, you’re likely to see elevated cholesterol and a higher risk for heart disease.
If you’re concerned about cholesterol and heart health, the most important lifestyle change is to adjust the overall pattern of your diet. That means replacing processed foods and high sugar items with healthier options.
What are these “healthier” options? They are plant-based, fiber-rich, “whole” foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and things like that. Eggs and dairy fit. So does seafood and unprocessed meat.
For example, you might not think a hamburger combo is a healthy meal. But it can be. The meat isn’t a significant threat on occasion, but the sides are. If you swap a white bun for a whole wheat one and your fries for a salad, quinoa, or bean salad, it’s got a ton of value.
When you’re thinking about lowering cholesterol and heart health, diet is essential. But it’s not about one or five foods. It’s about the whole picture.