Are Eggs, Meat, and Dairy Bad for High Cholesterol?
True or False? Eggs, Dairy, and Meat are Bad for You
If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol you should completely eliminate eggs, meat, and dairy from your diet, right? Not necessarily! While reducing the amount of unhealthy fats you consume is vital to lowering your high cholesterol, you don’t have to completely rid your diet of eggs, meat, and dairy products to make it more cholesterol-friendly. You can still enjoy these foods, but on certain conditions. How you prepare these foods, how often you eat them, and substituting them in for healthier options allows you to incorporate these foods into your diet in a healthy way.
What Is Cholesterol?
While cholesterol usually has a negative connotation, not all cholesterol is bad. There are two types of cholesterol--Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and High-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol because it helps to remove dangerous cholesterol from the blood so it can be eliminated by the body. LDL is “bad” cholesterol because when too much of it is present in the blood, it causes a buildup of plaque on the arterial walls in the heart and brain. When left untreated, this buildup of plaque can lead to heart disease, stroke, or heart attack.
Food and Cholesterol
Cholesterol serves vital functions for your body, including:
- helping make the outer coating of cells
- making up the bile acids to digest food
- helping the body produce Vitamin D and hormones
75 percent of cholesterol is produced naturally in the body. The other 25 percent is derived from the food you eat. Cholesterol becomes a health hazard when too much of it is present in the blood. For some individuals, genetics cause their liver to produce too much LDL (bad) cholesterol. A contributor to high LDL cholesterol is consistently eating foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Cholesterol is only present in animal products (meat and dairy products).
According to the American Heart Association (ADA), the optimal LDL level in the body is less than 100 mg/dL. A level of 130 to 159 mg/dL is considered borderline high. Since HDL (good) cholesterol is protective, the higher the number, the better. The ADA recommends an HDL of at least 60 mg/dL. When it comes to the recommended daily intake of cholesterol from food, the Mayo Clinic recommends those with high LDL cholesterol to limit their daily cholesterol intake to 200 mg or less. Keep this number in mind when you’re planning your meals throughout the day. Read food labels carefully to make sure you don’t consume more than the recommended amount.
“Eggcellent” or Evil?
Eggs are thought to be taboo when it comes to the topic of cholesterol. However, multiple studies show that eggs are not evil; in fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic, eggs are high in antioxidants, protein, and nutrients. The antioxidants in eggs have been associated with lowering cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, and cancer. According to the Cleveland Clinic, eating eggs in moderation (4-6 eggs per week) is acceptable for people even with high cholesterol. Research shows that people who eat eggs in moderation don’t show an increase in their cholesterol levels compared to those who eliminated eggs completely from their diet. The key is eating eggs in moderation.
The Meat of the Matter
When it comes to creating a healthy meal plan to maintain your cholesterol, you don’t have to omit meat altogether. While some types of meat are high in saturated fat, there are plenty of leaner options. Depending on the type of meat you choose and how you prepare it, you can safely include meat into your diet. Select leaner cuts of meat such as:
- lean beef: chuck, sirloin or loin.
- lean pork cuts: the tenderloin or loin chop
- lamb: cuts from the leg, arm and loin.
- ground beef that’s made of 90 percent or higher lean meat.
- meats labeled “prime” mean they’re higher in fat. Look for meats labeled “choice” or “select.”
How meat is prepared during the cooking process is just as important as the cut of meat. Selecting a lean cut of tenderloin pork and preparing it with a cream-based sauce, or deep-frying it negates the benefits of the lean cut of pork. Adopt these healthier cooking options:
- trim as much visible fat as possible before cooking
- grill, broil, roast, and bake instead of frying
- use a rack to catch fat drippings and juices while cooking
- cook meat-based dishes such as stew a day in advance. Once refrigerated, the fat solidifies and rises to the top allowing you to remove it.
Consuming dairy products are known to have health benefits, especially when it comes to strengthening bones. Dairy products are high in calcium, potassium, and Vitamin D. Consuming whole-fat dairy products, however, can have an unwanted health effect--high LDL cholesterol levels. Whole-fat dairy products are high in saturated fat and cholesterol and should be replaced with low-fat options. Healthier options include:
- 1 percent milk or skim milk
- low-fat cheeses such as: low fat cottage cheese, part-skim milk mozzarella, or ricotta
- sorbet, sherbet, low-fat or fat-free frozen yogurt, or ice cream
- low-fat yogurt
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- Low-Calorie, Lower Fat Alternative Foods. (n.d.). National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/lcal_fat.htm
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- Kirkpatrick, K. (2012, August 16). Should I Stop Eating Eggs to Control Cholesterol? (Diet Myth 4). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2012/08/should-i-stop-eating-eggs-to-control-cholesterol-diet-myth-4/
- Cooking for Lower Cholesterol. (2012, December 12). American Heart Association. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Cooking-for-Lower-Cholesterol_UCM_305630_Article.jsp
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