When you hear about good and bad cholesterol, it is referring to cholesterol in your blood, not in the foods you eat. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, carries cholesterol away from your arteries to be excreted. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, carries cholesterol to your arteries, where too much can build up unhealthy plaque. There are no food sources of LDL and HDL cholesterol, but certain foods can help increase good HDL cholesterol and decrease bad LDL cholesterol in your body.
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Dietary Fats and Cholesterol Affect Your Cholesterol Levels
To improve your cholesterol levels, avoid or limit food sources of cholesterol and saturated and trans fat while choosing food containing fiber and unsaturated fats. Only animal foods contain bad fats and cholesterol; plant foods and most fish do not. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends eating 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories from mainly unsaturated fat while limiting saturated fat and avoiding trans fat altogether. The American Heart Association recommends keeping your cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams if you have normal cholesterol and less than 200 milligrams if you have high cholesterol.
Good Fats: Avocado, Nuts and Seeds, Olive Oil and Fish
Unsaturated fat is good fat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can improve your cholesterol levels if you replace bad fats with them. Good sources of monounsaturated fat include avocados, almonds, and olive and canola oil. Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include fish, walnuts and flaxseed oil.
High-Fiber Foods: Whole Grains, Produce and Other Plant Foods
Eating a diet high in fiber can improve your cholesterol levels. Dietary fiber is found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and beans and legumes. Both types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, are beneficial for your cholesterol levels. Increase fiber in your diet by replacing refined grains with whole grains as whole grains contain more fiber. For example, choose oatmeal instead of cream of wheat, eat 100 percent whole-wheat bread rather than white bread and have brown rice instead of white rice. Add nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, vegetables and dried or fresh fruits to your salads, soups and casseroles, or use fruit or vegetable puree instead of oil or butter in baking.
Avoid or Limit Saturated and Trans Fats and Dietary Cholesterol
Saturated and trans fat and cholesterol from foods increase your bad cholesterol. Foods that can increase your bad LDL cholesterol are animal fats such as poultry skin, red meat fat, egg yolk and full-fat dairy. Trans fat is listed on food labels as partially hydrogenated oil. It is a man-made fat found in many processed foods such as bakery items, margarine, shortenings and fast food.