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5 Worst Eating Habits Secretly Raising Your Cholesterol, Say Dietitians

Yes, crash dieting may be the culprit.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

No one wants to hear from their doctor that they have high cholesterol, but unfortunately, this is a common issue in the United States. While a healthy amount of cholesterol is needed in the body for creating cells, having too much of it can lead to blood clots in your arteries, which may ultimately lead to stroke or heart disease for some.

So what causes high cholesterol, and how can we lower it? There are many factors contributing to a spike in cholesterol levels, including smoking, carrying extra weight, lack of exercise, and poor diet.

To learn more about the ways a poor diet can increase cholesterol levels, we talked with a few expert dietitians about the eating habits secretly increasing your levels. Read on, and for more healthy eating tips, check out Best Breakfast Habits for High Blood Pressure.

Eating too much red meat

red meat

A diet higher in red meat has been known to increase the risk of high cholesterol. This is due mainly to its saturated fat content.

"Heart disease and obesity are the main diseases associated with a diet high in red meat. This is because of the meat's high saturated fat content, which leads to an increase in cholesterol and artery blockages along with triglycerides. Cutting out or significantly reducing saturated fat in your diet is one change that can help to improve heart health," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD at Balance One Supplements.

Yo-yo dieting


Many people may not realize this, but crash dieting or other unhealthy dieting can actually cause issues with your health and cholesterol levels.

"One lesser know habit that is known to impact cholesterol is weight cycling. Specifically, weight cycling (also known as yo-yo dieting) has been associated with lower HDL (the 'good' cholesterol) and higher LDL (the 'bad' cholesterol.) It should be considered that any extreme methods to lose weight might be more detrimental for cholesterol than actually staying at a weight that is higher (and perhaps) more comfortable for anyone's body. What can we do instead? Combat systemic weight stigma and discourage restrictive dieting," says Rachel Fine, RDN and founder of To The Pointe Nutrition.

 4 Dangerous Side Effects of Having a Restrictive Diet

Eating fried foods

fried foods

Fried foods are delicious, and oftentimes pulling into the drive-thru for a fast-food lunch is one of the more convenient options out there. However, it may be negatively impacting your cholesterol.

"It is important to avoid or limit fried foods. These foods are high-cholesterol items and should be avoided whenever possible, especially because the hydrogenated oil used for frying these foods contains bad fats that tend to raise bad (LDL) cholesterol in the body," says Beth Hawkes, RDN, a registered dietitian and owner of Nurse Code.

Eating too much added sugar

sugary junk food

If you're someone watching your cholesterol, you may want to lower your added sugar intake. But regardless of your cholesterol levels, most Americans are eating too much added sugar on a daily basis.

"It is also important to limit sugary treats. Ice creams and baked goodies, such as cakes, pastries, and cookies, contain added sugars, and there is a link between added sugars and increased LDL (bad cholesterol). Added sugars also decrease the level of HDL (good cholesterol) and increase triglycerides in your body. These sugary treats, along with soft drinks and canned juices, are also associated with weight gain, which can eventually spike the cholesterol levels in your body," says Hawkes.

 5 Snacking Habits to Avoid if You Have High Cholesterol

Eating ultra-processed or packaged foods

vending machine snacks

Lastly, if you can avoid or limit your consumption of pre-packaged foods, you may be able to help manage your cholesterol levels.

"These foods can raise cholesterol because these foods have little fiber in them, often contain a highly saturated (and environmentally detrimental fat) palm oil (or derivative), and contain few healthful nutrients, making them inflammatory and likely to increase cholesterol," says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD a registered dietitian and author of Recipe for Survival.

Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha