The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 71 million Americans have high cholesterol, which means there’s never been a better time to explore what it means to eat a cholesterol-free diet! Whether the urge to change habits is self-motivated or coming from your doc, you’ll not only boost your intake of key vitamins and nutrients, but will also discover that cholesterol-free foods are a clean source of fuel to power your day. Here’s the lowdown on cooking, eating, and enjoying a cholesterol-free lifestyle!
What Is Cholesterol?
When you hear the word “cholesterol,” you probably think about pizza and fried food, but cholesterol isn’t only found in foods that are high in saturated fat. In addition to dietary cholesterol found in animal-derived foods like meat and dairy, cholesterol is naturally produced in your liver to digest fatty foods and make hormones. And since your body produces all the cholesterol it needs, overindulging in foods high in “bad cholesterol” puts you at risk of disrupting your body’s healthy cholesterol levels.
Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
Believe it or not, not all cholesterol is “bad.” Cholesterol is actually broken into two categories: LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad cholesterol” and HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or “good” cholesterol.
- LDL Cholesterol: The majority of your body’s cholesterol is LDL. However, when you have too much of it, the cholesterol may build up on the walls of your blood vessels (known as plaque), which can impair blood flow to and from the heart and other organs.
- HDL Cholesterol: HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, absorbs LDL and carries it back to the liver, which flushes it from the body. (High five, LDL!) If you’re hoping to lower your LDL, sticking to a diet that helps boost levels of HDL cholesterol is key to keeping “bad cholesterol” in check.
Sure, you know that fried chicken and cheeseburgers are off the menu when you’re eating a cholesterol-free diet, but what about low-cholesterol foods? The good news is there are delicious options to incorporate into your daily meal plan, and many foods offer the added bonus of actually helping lower cholesterol levels, too!
- Avocado: Often referred to as a “healthy fat,” research shows that avocados have the potential to improve lipid profiles and may lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol twice as much as diets that don’t include avocado. In other words, there’s no reason to block the guac if you’re hoping to nix cholesterol from your diet.
- Fruit: Well, all fruit is technically considered “cholesterol-free,” and apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus fruits contain pectin, a type of soluble fiber that works to help lower LDL cholesterol. All the more reason to swap your usual side of fries for a fruit salad!
- Oatmeal: Filling and good for cholesterol? Oatmeal is more than just a comforting, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast. One bowl of this power-packed fuel provides 1-2 grams of soluble fiber, which helps reduce LDL/”bad” cholesterol.
- Quinoa: We already know that quinoa easily qualifies as a superfood, but now there are more reasons to love this ancient, gluten-free grain. Recent studies show quinoa is promising for reducing cholesterol, and also delivers an antioxidant boost thanks to free-radical-fighting phytochemicals.
- Oily Fish: While all fish contains some cholesterol, oily fish (think salmon, trout, tuna, or even sardines) is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which work to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol by lowering your triglyceride levels. If you’re looking to adopt a diet that’s low-to-no cholesterol, oily fish is a great protein of choice.
- Plant-Based Fats: With so many plant-based oils and fats on the market, swapping out animal-based products like butter and lard is easier than ever. Avocado oil, EVOO, sunflower oil, and flaxseed oil (to name a few) help lower “bad” cholesterol levels while working to raise “good” cholesterol levels with a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Broccoli: Foods rich in soluble fiber are an excellent addition to a cholesterol-free diet, and broccoli more than fits the bill. With 1.4 grams of soluble fiber per serving, broccoli helps absorb “bad” cholesterol to maintain healthier cholesterol levels.
- Dark Leafy Greens: Lettuce? Kale? Swiss chard? Yes, please! Loading up on cholesterol-free leafy greens not only packs a nutrient-dense punch for any diet (delivering antioxidants and folate), but high-fiber greens may combat high cholesterol and encourage the body to regulate triglyceride levels.
Long gone are the days of bland, boring, cholesterol-free recipes. Rich, flavorful, and deliciously filling, you won’t feel the least bit deprived with these cholesterol-friendly dishes.
Give your greens a Japanese-inspired flavor upgrade with coconut aminos, nori, and sesame. Your oven will soon become your new best friend on a cholesterol-free diet, and this sensational side recipe is no exception.
Refreshing meets satiating in this crisp and crave-worthy salad. Lemon juice and fennel add a zesty crunch while tender sardines add richness.
Instant oatmeal without the artificial ingredients? Count us in! This smart and easy recipe calls for gluten-free rolled oats and a few ingredients of your choosing, including dried fruit, a superfood like chia seeds or goji berries, and your go-to protein powder.
Get more out of pesto by adding kale and hemp seeds to the mix instead of basil. The nutrient-rich combo makes for a superpowered, totally delicious dish.
We just love recipes that let sweet and savory flavors mingle, and this salad does it beautifully (seriously, it’s really pretty). Tri-colored quinoa adds a dose of healthy protein while cilantro, dried cranberries, almonds and zucchini create lovely layers of texture.
Quinoa swaps in for bulgur wheat and combines with a handful of colorful herbs like parsley and mint along with cherry tomatoes for a fresh, bright bite.
Go grain-free with comforting cauliflower rice combined with sautéed spinach and mushrooms and topped with a delicate salmon filet. Not only is this dish oh-so-easy, but it’s downright elegant.