Dining Out When Your Cholesterol Levels Are High
Knowing what to look for on the menu can help you enjoy dining out without sacrificing your health.
If you have high cholesterol, you don’t have to give up family dinners, holiday celebrations or romantic dinners at your favorite restaurants. All you need to do is learn about the best food choices to lower your cholesterol so you can eat to lower your cholesterol on the go.
Before you spend your next night at your favorite restaurant, here’s what you need to know.
Avoid the saturated fats found in processed meats and prepared foods
The USDA’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans no longer recommend limiting dietary cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams (mg) per day, as they did in the 2010 edition. However, this change does not mean that cholesterol is unimportant. It is generally accepted that how much cholesterol a person eats has less of an effect on blood cholesterol levels than previously thought, but experts still say cholesterol should be eaten as little as possible.
A large study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March 2019 found that dietary cholesterol appears to affect blood cholesterol levels. Researchers followed 30,000 men and women who were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) at the start of the study; after recording their health for more than 17 years, they concluded that every 300 mg increase in cholesterol in the daily diet was associated with a 17 percent increase in the risk of CVD. The cholesterol you eat seems to affect your blood cholesterol levels, but that’s not the whole story.
According to the guidelines, following a healthy eating pattern is the most important thing you can do to control your cholesterol and your health.
A diet low in meat, especially processed meats such as bacon, sausage, lunch meats and poultry, is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults. You don’t have to eliminate meat completely, just aim for a total of 26 ounces of lean poultry, lean meat, eggs and fish per week.
The current thinking is based on a new understanding of what does and does not affect blood cholesterol levels. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “It’s the mix of fats and carbohydrates in your diet that has the greatest impact on blood cholesterol levels, not the amount of cholesterol you eat.
Many cholesterol-rich foods, such as fatty meats, high-fat dairy products, and baked goods, also contain high levels of saturated and trans fats, all of which can raise blood cholesterol.
Experts agree that the goal is to limit or avoid foods high in saturated fat when eating at a restaurant or caterer. In general, foods with lots of toppings such as pizza, stews, burgers, tacos and sandwiches tend to be high in saturated fat, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. This list also includes most cheeses – which tend to be high in saturated fat and sodium, so moderation is the best approach – as well as tropical oils such as cream, butter, coconut and palm oil, desserts, cookies and snacks.
According to the guidelines, dishes high in vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy products, most oils, fatty fish, lean meats and poultry are good choices, and they are generally low in saturated fat. Shrimp is high in cholesterol but low in saturated fat. Her advice is to enjoy it occasionally, at least twice a month.
When eating Chinese food, opt for steamed rather than fried
Many Chinese restaurants are deep-fried. However, there are many ways to avoid these high-fat foods. Experts suggests that for beginners, consider steamed rather than fried spring rolls. Steamed rice also tastes better. If the rice is fried, it will inevitably be fattening, and he suggests asking the waiter to prepare it with as little oil as possible.
For entrees, seafood is a good choice, especially if you order something steamed. According to the AHA, seafood dishes that are poached or grilled are also a good choice to minimize the addition of saturated fat. Remember to eat shrimp in moderation and choose appetizers that are high in vegetables. Many menus have a handy vegetable-based appetizer section.
Ask for skinless chicken for protein and try to save fat and calories by not eating the crunchy noodles that are often found on Chinese restaurant tables.
Don’t eat Mexican food with sour cream
Fajitas are a good choice when eating at Mexican restaurants because they usually contain vegetables, Collingwood said. Also, consider black beans, which are rich in soluble fiber and can help lower cholesterol.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends choosing tortillas over white flour tortillas because they are much lower in calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar than flour tortillas. Grilled fish and grilled chicken are both good low-fat, low-protein options. For toppings, choose salsa, cilantro or pico de gallo instead of sour cream and cheese.
Plus, by frying beans, they’re high in saturated fat.
Link: 9 things dieters need to know about high cholesterol.
When eating Indian food, choose vegetables and avoid ghee.
Experts note that Indian restaurants typically serve a variety of vegetarian dishes. For example, chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are commonly used in Indian cuisine and are a healthy and smart choice.
Look for dishes with lots of vegetables and tofu, Collingwood said. She also endorses roast chicken, a grilled chicken entree.
But stay away from heavy ghee dishes. It’s a clarified butter made from buffalo or cow’s milk.
And when ordering certain Indian dishes, consider whether you can cook with a small amount of oil, Collingwood said.
When eating Italian food, order grilled meat, not sausage.
Chris experts suggests that when eating at an Italian restaurant, a simple pasta dish with marinara sauce is a good choice. Also, she adds, look for grilled chicken, fish or vegetable-based dishes.
Collingwood said beans and soy products contain a lot of fiber and can help lower cholesterol. Italian minestrone, for example, contains pinto beans.
But other staples aren’t as healthy. Experts warns that the ground beef and cheese in lasagna can increase the total saturated fat content.
Also, watch out for sausage appetizers, which are high in saturated fat. Although they contain peppers and are a low-calorie vegetable, sausage dishes can be high in overall fat, she says.