The danger of oxidized cholesterol is not new. It was first described in the medical literature in the late 1800’s. However, it wasn’t until the 1990′s that scientists discovered that this type of cholesterol could cause heart disease and stroke. Since then, there have been many studies done to determine if eating foods rich in oxidized cholesterol causes any health problems or even increases one’s risk for these diseases. The research shows that consuming foods with oxidized cholesterol does increase one’s risk for heart disease and stroke. However, the exact mechanism by which this occurs is still unknown.
Oxidized cholesterol is found naturally in some animal products such as red meat, poultry, fish and eggs. These foods contain very small amounts of oxidized cholesterol. Foods like nuts and seeds do not usually contain large quantities of oxidized cholesterol because they don’t get exposed to as much heat during processing.
Some foods that contain oxidized cholesterol include:
Fish (salmon, herring, mackerel)
Poultry (chicken, turkey)
Beef (beef steak, hamburger)
Cream cheese (cheese made from cream)
Ice cream (ice cream made from milk solids)
Nuts and seeds
Walnuts and almonds
Chocolate chips and chocolate bars
Dark or hard cheese (cheddar, swiss, gouda, parmesan)
We can see from this list that foods with oxidized cholesterol are considered to be “healthy” foods. This is why it’s important for people who want to avoid oxidized cholesterol to read food labels. There have been many reports of people eating “healthy” foods which turned out to be higher in oxidized cholesterol than expected.
Some people think that products that are labeled as “diet”, “low fat”, or “organic” are low in oxidized cholesterol. This is usually not the case. In fact, some of these products can contain MORE oxidized cholesterol than their conventional counterparts. So it’s important to read the nutrition label before buying these products.
For people who have high cholesterol levels or other risk factors for heart disease, it may be a good idea to talk to a doctor or nutritionist about how much oxidized cholesterol is safe to consume. This is especially important in children since their livers are not as efficient at breaking down and eliminating oxidized cholesterol from the body.
The best way to know if a food contains oxidized cholesterol is by looking at the ingredient list. If you see the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the list, this indicates that the food contains oxidized cholesterol since these processes are used to increase the shelf life of foods.
Some other words to look out for are:
Palm oil (or palmolein)
These oils are high in oxidized cholesterol and should be avoided if you’re concerned about your heart health.
So what should you do if you want to eat foods that are high in cholesterol but you’re also concerned about your health?
It’s a good idea to limit your consumption of high-oxidized-cholesterol foods and monitor your cholesterol levels.
You should also be aware that there is conflicting research about the role of oxidized cholesterol in heart disease. Some studies show that it has a direct negative effect, while other studies show no effect or that it is beneficial. More research is needed to determine the role of oxidized cholesterol in the diet.
So how can we tell if a food contains oxidized cholesterol?
It’s easy! All you have to do is look at the ingredient list. If you see the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated”, then you know the food contains oxidized cholesterol.
So what foods contain these oils?
Some of the most common ones include:
Shortenings (Crisco is the most famous brand)
Pancakes and waffles
Some of these foods are considered “unhealthy” for other reasons. This is especially true for shortenings and margarines which are high in saturated and trans fats. But some of these foods can be considered “healthy”. Some biscuits and cookies, for example, can be high in antioxidants and other nutrients.
The point is, it’s hard to tell if a food is good or bad for you just by looking at the ingredients. That’s why it’s important to read the entire nutrition label before you buy a product.
So which foods should you buy and which should you avoid?
Unsaturated Fats (Good) vs. Saturated Fats (Bad)
There are two main types of fats: unsaturated and saturated. All foods containing fat contain a combination of these two types, but one is always present in higher amounts.
Unsaturated fats are considered “good” since they lower your risk of heart disease. They also help keep your body healthy and can aid in the absorption of some nutrients.
Saturated fats increase your risk of heart disease and have no proven benefits. In fact, they can even increase your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol.
Look at the nutrition label on a food product to see whether it is high in unsaturated or saturated fat. If “Total Fat” is listed near the top of the list, this means that the food is high in fat in general.
If “Saturated Fat”
Sources & references used in this article:
Quantification of cholesterol oxidation products in milk powders using [2H7] cholesterol to monitor cholesterol autoxidation artifacts by C Rose-Sallin, AC Huggett, JO Bosset… – Journal of Agricultural …, 1995 – ACS Publications
The role of tree nuts and peanuts in the prevention of coronary heart disease: multiple potential mechanisms by PM Kris-Etherton, FB Hu, E Ros… – The Journal of nutrition, 2008 – academic.oup.com
Improvement in erectile function in men with organic erectile dysfunction by correction of elevated cholesterol levels: a clinical observation by EA Saltzman, AT Guay, J Jacobson – The Journal of urology, 2004 – Elsevier