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Popular Drinks Proven to Cause High Cholesterol, According to Science

If you need to lower your numbers, you may want to stay away from these.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

The blood test indicating you have high cholesterol is almost always followed by a warning from your doctor to cut out the fried foods and get some exercise. You may even get a prescription for cholesterol-lowering medication. However, while those cheeseburgers and fried chicken are almost always to blame for your high cholesterol levels, your drinking habits also play a huge role in negatively affecting your cholesterol numbers. This is why it's important to keep these drinks that cause high cholesterol in mind if you're trying to lower your numbers.

Before we get into which popular drinks deliver the worst affront to your cholesterol levels, let's review the types of "lipoproteins" that circulate in your bloodstream and how they influence your risk for cardiovascular disease. There are two: low-density lipoproteins or LDL, the so-called "bad" cholesterol, and high-density lipoproteins or HDL, the so-called "good" cholesterol. Too much of the bad LDL and not enough of the good HDL leads to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Nearly a third of American adults have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And these worst drinks that cause high cholesterol aren't doing your body any favors.

Triglyceride, another type of blood fat, is worth mentioning because having high triglyceride levels when combined with high LDL and low HDL, is a recipe for the fatty deposits on artery walls that narrow and stiffen them, causing a disease called atherosclerosis. What you choose to eat and drink influences your LDL and triglyceride levels. Exercise can raise your good HDL, which removes excess cholesterol from your blood. For a snapshot of the worst drinks that cause high cholesterol, read on. And for even more healthy drinking tips, be sure to check out our list of 108 Most Popular Sodas Ranked By How Toxic They Are.


chocolate milkshake

Eating a lot of saturated fat can increase the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood and decrease the good HDL cholesterol. The effect happens immediately, even after just one high-fat indulgence, like a milkshake, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Laboratory Investigation.

Scientists at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) at Augusta University gave 10 healthy men either a milkshake made with whole milk, heavy whipping cream, and ice cream containing 80 grams of fat and 1,000 calories or a cereal meal of 1,000 calories. Four hours after the meal, researchers gave blood tests and checked the subjects' endothelial function, that is, the flexibility of their blood vessels. Only the milkshake drinkers' total cholesterol, triglycerides, and fatty acids were significantly elevated, and their blood vessel test showed reduced endothelial function.

The scientists attributed the impaired ability of the blood vessels to dilate properly to high levels of MPO, an enzyme that turns normally smooth red blood cells into small, spikey cells that stiffen arteries and can destabilize plaque buildup, which can result in a heart attack or stroke.

"You are looking at what one, high-fat meal does to blood -vessel health," said study co-author Ryan A. Harris, PhD, a vascular physiologist MCG's Georgia Prevention Institute, in a release.

Be sure to read up on our list of the Drinking Habits That Are Shortening Your Life, According to Science.

Soda and sugary beverages

pouring soda

Sugar-sweetened drinks like soda, fruit drinks with added sugars, sweet teas, and others affect your blood cholesterol, too. What may come as a surprise is just how little it takes to make a negative impact. When you look at the science, it's likely considered one of the worst drinks that cause high cholesterol.

A 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association analyzed data from more than 6,000 people over a 12-year period and determined that adults who drank one or more sugary beverages every day had a greater risk of developing high cholesterol. Specifically, the study found that regular drinkers of sugar-sweetened beverages had a 98% higher chance of developing low HDL, the good cholesterol that helps rid the blood of LDL bad cholesterol, and a 53% greater chance of having high triglycerides, a type of blood fat that's unhealthy at high levels.

The study shows strong evidence that consuming too much sugar impacts your cholesterol levels, one of the key components of metabolic syndrome linked to cardiovascular disease, say the researchers from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston University, and Duke University.

Related: 13 Drinks That are Shortening Your Life, According to Science.

French press coffee and espresso

french press

Don't worry. Not all coffee is associated with increased cholesterol levels. It depends on how it's brewed. A potent cholesterol-raising compound called cafestol is found in the highest levels in boiled coffees like French press coffee and espresso. Decaffeination doesn't reduce cafestrol, however, the compound is removed by paper coffee filters, report researchers from The Netherlands and Baylor College of Medicine in Texas in a 2007 study published in Molecular Endocrinology. Scientists say cafestol raises cholesterol by disrupting a receptor in the intestinal tract that regulates lipoproteins.

However, in order for it to have any negative effects on your body, you would need to consume five to eight cups of unfiltered coffee a day to raise your "bad" LDL cholesterol, according to Harvard Health.

Coconut oil smoothies


The trendy satiating "superfood" that's often added to smoothies and coffee is high in saturated fat; just one tablespoon contains 12 grams of the cholesterol-raising stuff. A 2020 meta-analysis of clinical trials in Circulation suggests that consumption of coconut oil for two weeks can raise LDL cholesterol by 10.5 milligrams per deciliter when compared with non-tropical vegetable oils.

Coconut oil also raised the good HDL cholesterol, the study found. The American Heart Association has long advocated replacing healthier fats like olive oil for saturated fats. Reducing the high carbohydrate content of your smoothies can help, too. A review of clinical trials, in which polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats were consumed in place of carbohydrates decreased levels of bad LDL and increased the protective HDL cholesterol.

Check out 15 Worst Foods for High Cholesterol to learn what you should limit eating if you are concerned about your levels.


Beer mugs table

You've no doubt heard that having a glass of wine now and then can help raise your good HDL cholesterol levels. But that's no reason to start drinking. Consuming more than the recommended one drink per day for women and two for men can negatively affect heart health. Alcohol is known to increase triglycerides, a type of blood fat like cholesterol, and studies clearly show that heavy drinking, especially occasional bouts of heavy drinking, significantly impacts blood fat ratios and is associated with cardiovascular disease.

Want to avoid a double shot of heart trouble? Just say no to this increasingly popular cocktail: bacon-infused bourbon, which can raise triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. Before you belly up to the bar, read 41 Ways Alcohol Ruins Your Health.

Jeff Csatari
Jeff Csatari, a contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, is responsible for editing Galvanized Media books and magazines and for advising journalism students through the Zinczenko New Media Center at Moravian University in Bethlehem, PA. Read more about Jeff
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