The Worst Frozen Foods for High Cholesterol, Say Dietitians
We've all heard about the threat of high cholesterol, and that's for good reason. Cholesterol, which is a waxy substance found in blood, is important to help build cells in the body. But when there's too much of it, there can be life-threatening consequences, especially for adults over 50.
It's not just a concern for older adults either. According to the CDC, 7% of children and teenagers between the ages of 6 and 19 also struggle with high cholesterol, which raises the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the main leading causes of death in the United States.
For the most part, we know the steps we can take to help lower cholesterol numbers. But once those numbers are low, it's important to have a strong defense against the foods that are most dangerous for heart health. To know which to avoid or limit your intake of, here are some of the frozen foods to look out for. Then, for more healthy tips, be sure to read up on the Eating Habits to Lose Abdominal Fat As You Age, Say Dietitians.
Pizza is not necessarily known for being the healthiest dinner option, so it makes sense that the ultra-processed frozen version of the food isn't the best option for keeping your cholesterol levels down.
"Frozen pizza is considered to be an ultra-processed food. Intake of ultra-processed foods are linked to increased levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, and a higher risk of heart disease," says Lindsey DeSoto, RD and owner of The Dietitian Mama. "Additionally, most of the toppings on frozen pizzas are processed meats like pepperoni. Processed meat is also linked to increased risk of heart disease due to its high saturated fat content."
That doesn't mean you can never have pizza, though. DeSoto recommends making a homemade pizza with "high quality, natural ingredients" and avoiding high-processed meat toppings.
"Light" frozen dinners
The name on the box may have you tricked that you've chosen an all-around healthy meal. Many of the frozen meals labeled as "light" may contain fewer calories, but if you're worried about cholesterol levels, don't forget to check the nutrition label as well.
"For example, many of the frozen dinners at local grocery stores that are labeled 'light' or 'lean' may contain fewer calories," says DeSoto. "However, they are often high in sodium and fat. They also are usually too low in calories to be considered a meal, yet pack in as much sodium and fat if not more than what a much larger, the wholesome meal would contain."
When you want a quick and simple appetizer or snack, frozen fried foods like mozzarella sticks or onion rings are an easy way to satisfy that craving. While it's a simple hunger fix, it might not be the best choice if you're trying to keep your cholesterol down.
"Fried foods of any type are bad for people with high cholesterol," says Heidi Moretti, RD and residential nutritional advisor at Sovereign Laboratories. "These foods all either contain highly processed grains, refined sugars, processed oils, and often a combination of all three that increase inflammation in the body. By increasing inflammation in the whole body, cholesterol is more likely to deposit in the artery wall and contribute to heart disease."
At first glance, puff pastry dough doesn't seem like it would be the worst health offender for those who are trying to lower their cholesterol. But when you consider how it's made, layers of thin dough, all filled with butter, it's easy to see that puff pastry is something to steer clear of if you're worried about cholesterol levels.
"Puff pastry is typically made with a large quantity of lard or shortening which is high in saturated and trans fats that can increase bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) and reduce good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol)," says Veronica Rouse, RD.
Frozen red meat
It's well known that when you want to change up your diet to start eating healthier, red meat is typically one of the first things to go. Andrea Memon, RD says that people who want to lower their cholesterol should prioritize reducing red meat consumption because it's high in saturated fat, which can elevate blood cholesterol levels. Among red meat, the cuts that are highest in saturated fats are ground hamburgers, ribs, pork chops, and roasts.
Memon adds that processed meats are also unhealthy for cholesterol, and "frozen, processed red meat" is one of the worst things you could eat when trying to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Full fat ice cream
Ice cream is never at the top of any list of healthy foods, but did you know that on top of being packed with sugar and a nightmare for anyone with a dairy or lactose intolerance, full-fat ice cream can also be really bad for cholesterol levels?
"Full fat ice cream made with cream is very high in saturated fat which can increase your bad cholesterol," Rouse says.
Although frozen yogurt is commonly used as a healthier alternative to ice cream, Rouse adds that it's not the best option for lowering cholesterol either.
"You might think that frozen yogurt may be a better alternative since it's low in fat, but it's very high in sugar," Rouse says. "Too much refined sugar is also not good for your LDL cholesterol or your triglyceride levels."
It's not the chicken part of frozen orange chicken dinners that's unhealthy, but sneakily, the orange glaze sauce that tops it, which is filled with a high amount of excess sugars. All of that extra sugar can lead not only to a stomach ache, but also to increased cholesterol because it can potentially result in having an increased risk of fat buildup in the arteries.
"Not only does excess sugar trigger higher LDL and lower HDL levels, [but] it also leads to higher amounts of triglycerides (blood fats that store extra energy)," says Megan Wong, RD at AlgaeCal. "For someone with high cholesterol, having high triglycerides means an increased risk of fat buildup in the arteries, meaning a higher chance of heart attack and stroke."