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Cholesterol: FAQs

Your cholesterol questions answered.

What are triglycerides and do foods affect them?

Fats as we know them—both those in the foods we eat and those stored in our body—exist in the chemical form of triglycerides (three fatty acids connected to a glycerol). Together with cholesterol, triglycerides make up your blood lipids. It’s important to have your lipid levels checked at least once every five years (more often if you have risk factors for heart disease). What do those numbers mean?

A normal triglyceride range is 35 to 160 mg/dL, although some research suggests that a level above 150 mg/dL is linked with health risks.

Which is better for a low-cholesterol diet: soft or hard cheeses?

No matter how you slice it, cheese contains far more fat than the milk from which it’s made and, unfortunately, it is the saturated kind that’s linked with elevated LDL cholesterol levels.

Cheeses are sometimes categorized by texture: soft (Brie, Camembert), semi-soft (feta, mozzarella, Muenster), hard/very hard (Parmesan, Romano, Swiss, aged sharp Cheddars). Harder cheeses generally tend to have a tad more fat than softer ones per ounce, but picking full-fat Muenster over full-fat Parmesan won’t make much of a fat-savings difference. The fat variation between hard versus soft cheeses is quite small, particularly when you consider that harder cheeses generally have sharper flavors, so you can use less and still get a wonderful taste effect.

Your best bet for limiting saturated-fat intake from cheese is to buy ones that are labeled “reduced-fat” or “low-fat”. These federally defined terms identify foods that contain 25 percent less fat than their regular counterparts.

I love shrimp, but given their high cholesterol, I've disciplined myself to stay away from these crustaceans for years. Will I ever be able to release myself from my abstinence?

Most high-cholesterol foods also have high saturated-fat content, but shrimp is an exception. Shrimp is very low in saturated and total fat, so despite its high cholesterol content it is no longer frowned upon by most nutrition advisors. Current thinking is that foods high in cholesterol don't raise cholesterol levels in the body nearly as much as foods high in saturated fats do. If you have high cholesterol and want to keep your dietary-cholesterol intake low, shrimp can still be on the menu. A serving of six to eight medium shrimp provides about 166 mg of cholesterol, which leaves you under the daily limit of 200 mg, as recommended by the American Heart Association. Everyone else (with a higher limit of 300 milligrams) can enjoy the same meal relatively guilt-free.

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