A cardiologist shares 4 worst foods for high cholesterol—and what she eats to keep her ‘heart healthy’

Want to maintain a healthy heart and brain? Watch your cholesterol numbers carefully.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol builds up in the arteries and forms plaque, which blocks blood flow to the brain. HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) picks up LDL and takes it to the liver for processing.

Optimal levels vary from person to person, so always check with your doctor first.

As a cardiologist who treats high cholesterol patients, I always try to use diet as medicine first. Here are the four worst foods for high cholesterol – and what I eat instead to keep my heart healthy:

1. Red meat

Yes, that includes burgers, ribs, steak and pulled pork. If you don’t want to cut out red meat altogether, focus on a little lean meat. And by small, I mean portion sizes up to three ounces – and eat red meat at most, once a week.

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Remember that chicken also contains saturated fat, so avoiding red meat doesn’t mean you have to load up on chicken.

As for meat alternatives, I’m usually skeptical about engineered foods. To me, plants were never meant to bleed.

What to eat: Think fish and shellfish. Shrimp may be high in cholesterol, but as long as you don’t douse it in butter, it will provide you with plenty of protein while leaving your blood cholesterol alone.

Some delicious lean protein options are white-fleshed fish such as tilapia, halibut, cod and sea bream.

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2. Anything fried

Frying foods usually increases the calorie count because saturated or trans fats and cholesterol are absorbed by the food during the process.

What to eat: Bake potatoes, kale or broccoli until crisp when you want a crunch. Or, you can invest in an air fryer, which uses less fat.

3. Processed meat

The World Health Organization has classified processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs and salami as carcinogens. Processed meats are also loaded with sodium and saturated fat.

What to eat: Fake bacon is unlikely to satisfy your craving for a BLT. My advice? Reduce this product and make it a special treat.

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4. Baked goods

Mass-produced cookies, cakes and pastries are often dense in calories, low in nutrients, and contain large amounts of fat (especially saturated fat like butter and shortening) and sugar. All of these are the main causes of high cholesterol.

What to eat: Bake at home, and control the amount and type of fat and sugar you use.

Dr. Elizabeth Klodas is a cardiologist and founder Step One Food. Trained at the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins, Dr. Klodas has published dozens of scientific articles throughout his career, authored books for patients, “Slay the Giant: The Power of Prevention in Beating Heart Disease,″ and served as founding editor-in-chief Cardiosmart.org.

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