If you're reading this, your doctor has probably told you that your cholesterol levels are too high. Maybe she put you on a medication to help lower cholesterol, or simply told you to consume less cholesterol-containing foods. No matter what you are doing to manage your high cholesterol, the big picture of "cholesterol" is pretty complex.
Since your body makes about 80% of its cholesterol, the other 20% comes from the foods you eat. Dietary cholesterol is only found in foods of animal origin, such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. All individuals (and especially people with high cholesterol levels) should limit their intake of dietary cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams daily. But as you'll soon learn, limiting your dietary cholesterol intake is only a small part of a cholesterol-lowering diet. The types of fat you eat can have a much larger affect on your cholesterol levels.
After the low-fat and fat-free craze of the nineties, many people still fear fat or just don't understand it. It may come as a surprise that fat is very valuable to your health. Some kinds are good for you, while others are not.
When you’re making food choices, the types of fats you choose are just as (if not more) important than the amount of cholesterol the food contains.
These heart-healthy fats are part of a cholesterol-lowering diet:
Monounsaturated Fats are the healthiest fats. They decrease your total blood cholesterol but maintain your HDL (good) cholesterol. Ideally, most of the fat in your diet should come from this group, which includes: almonds, avocadoes, cashews, canola oil, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, natural peanut butter, olive oil, olives, pecans, peanuts, peanut oil, pistachios, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and tahini paste.
Certain margarines (those made primarily of the oils listed above) also fall into this healthy category of fats. But exercise caution when choosing one. Avoid those that list any form of "partially hydrogenated" oil in the list, which is a red flag for unhealthy trans fats (explained below).
Polyunsaturated Fats are somewhat healthy fats that decrease your total blood cholesterol by lowering both the LDL (bad) cholesterol and the HDL (good) cholesterol. Lowering your total cholesterol is great, but because these fats also lower your HDL (good) cholesterol, you should only enjoy them in moderation. You'll find polyunsaturated fats in corn oil, mayonnaise, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.
A special group of polyunsaturated fats is called Omega-3 fatty acids. These are heart-healthy and can be found in high-fat fish (albacore tuna, mackerel and salmon), other seafood (herring, lake trout, oysters, sardines, shellfish and shrimp), and plant sources (butternuts (white walnuts), flaxseed, flaxseed oil, hempseed, hempseed oil, soybean oil, and walnuts).
Certain margarines and most salad dressings (those made primarily of polyunsaturated or omega-3 fats) also fall into this somewhat healthy category.