What is all the fuss about cholesterol? You’ve most likely either heard medical professionals talk about it, read about it in an article, or maybe your doctor has personally told you that you have high cholesterol. Unfortunately, this topic can be a bit confusing, and there can be a lot of misinformation out there about how you can lower it. For those who are needing to eat a diet lower in cholesterol, you’ll be happy to know that there are low-cholesterol meats that you can still enjoy. But first, before we get too much into that, let’s dive into the common confusion about cholesterol.
There are two main types of cholesterol that you hear about on a regular basis. The first is what you find in your food, also known as dietary cholesterol. You’ll find this in animal-based products like eggs, fish, dairy, and meat. Then, you have the type of cholesterol that moves through your body, also known as blood cholesterol, which includes LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ kind), and HDL (the ‘good’ kind).
Your body ultimately relies on a certain amount of cholesterol in your blood because of cell building. However, having cholesterol that is too high can lead to major heart complications.
“High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and member of our Medical Expert Board. “If untreated, it can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can ultimately lead to atherosclerosis. This can lead to blood clots, heart attack, or stroke.”
What impacts your body’s cholesterol levels?
Many factors can affect your body’s cholesterol levels, including age, genetics, exercise and movement, and your diet. But what many people don’t realize is that the cholesterol we consume through food—our dietary cholesterol—may not play that of a big of a role in your body’ total blood cholesterol levels. In fact, experts have determined that it’s saturated and trans fats that are among the primary contributors to high blood cholesterol, meaning that finding foods lower in saturated fat may be more helpful to your heart health than foods that are considered to be lower in cholesterol.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we should totally ignore the dietary cholesterol found in the food we eat. According to the CDC, many products that are high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fat, which makes them potentially hazardous to your heart health. Additionally, the Harvard T.H. School of Public Health suggests that some people’s blood cholesterol is more affected by their dietary cholesterol than others. Furthermore, those with diabetes often need to keep a closer eye on their dietary cholesterol, too.
Are all low-cholesterol foods healthy?
Not exactly. Some food products that appear to be lower in cholesterol are actually higher in saturated fat and sodium. This can ultimately yield greater consequences for your health, particularly with respect to your heart health. Conversely, some high-cholesterol products—like shellfish, eggs, and organ meats (kidney, liver, heart, etc.)—are considered relatively healthier because they’re also low in saturated fat and high in nutrients. At the end of the day, the best way to be sure of your individual health needs are well met is to talk with your doctor about which foods are best for your body.
However, if you’re a meat lover who is already monitoring your dietary cholesterol levels along with your saturated and trans fat consumption, we’re about to make your life that much easier. We’ve rounded up a list of the beat low-cholesterol meat products you can eat, which are also considered low in saturated fat. Read on to find out if your favorite low-cholesterol meat made the cut—and for more healthy eating advice conducive to quality cholesterol, be sure to check out This 5-Day Meal Plan Can Improve Your Heart Health.
1 Chicken breast
2 Pork tenderloin
3 Ground turkey
According to Young, one of the safest things you can do when choosing low-cholesterol meat is “to choose chicken or turkey instead of beef, and remove the skin before eating.” However, it always depends on how your meat is prepared, because items like fried chicken or processed deli turkey sandwich meat slices is going to have more saturated fat than other types of chicken or turkey. Ground turkey, in particular, is a great choice because it only has 79 milligrams of cholesterol and about 2 grams of saturated fat per 3-ounce serving.
4 Bottom round steak
You may have been taught that you have to avoid all red meat when watching your heart health, but this isn’t necessarily true. While some studies have shown that limiting your meat consumption and opting for more plant-based foods can help your heart, there are cuts of red meat that are lower in cholesterol and saturated fat that can be ok for you to enjoy from time to time (depending on what your doctor suggests). If a healthcare professional gave you the green light to enjoy cuts of red meat, a great low-cholesterol cut of steak that is also low in saturated is a bottom round cut. There are only 65 milligrams of cholesterol and about 2 grams of saturated fat in 3 ounces of steak round.
5 Lean ground beef
Again, you can usually enjoy beef on a cholesterol-friendly diet, but you just have to be intentional about which type your’e choosing.
“Select lean or extra ground beef, and aim for 95% lean if you can,” says Young. This is because in 95% lean ground beef you’ll only get 70 milligrams of cholesterol and 2.5 grams of saturated fat in 4 ounces. But if that’s too hard to find at the store, you can select 90% lean beef for 73 milligrams of cholesterol and about 4.5 grams of saturated fat per serving.
Just remember, most people’s blood cholesterol levels will be more heavily impacted by saturated fat and other lifestyle factors than the amount of cholesterol they consume through their food. However, it’s important to talk with your doctor in case your individual health needs require you to keep your dietary cholesterol low. If that is the case, these healthy, low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol meats can make for delicious additions to your diet.