It’s nearly impossible to imagine the holidays without festive foods and drinks. Smoked ham, casseroles, bread pudding, pie, hot chocolate, egg nog, mulled wine—you name it. If you don’t have many dietary restrictions, enjoying these holiday foods should be a breeze. However, people with high cholesterol may go into the holiday season feeling worried about how they’re going to manage their cholesterol and enjoy their favorite foods.
According to the CDC, over 94 million Americans over the age of 20 have high cholesterol (over 200 mg/dL). If left untreated, high cholesterol may increase your chances of heart disease and stroke. Because it’s such a serious concern, it’s important to enter into the holiday season with a game plan of how you’re going to stick to your goals and manage your cholesterol levels.
Read on to learn some helpful eating and drinking tips for navigating the holidays with high cholesterol. And for more holiday-related health tips, check out 5 Easy Recipe Swaps To Make Your Holiday Baking Healthier.
Limit your cheese consumption
“Cheese is high in saturated fat, which can elevate your cholesterol level,” says Lisa Young, Ph.D., RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and member of our Medical Expert Advisory Board. “It is also high in calories and can easily lead to weight gain if you eat too much.”
The American Heart Association recommends consuming about 6% or less of your daily calories from saturated fat, which is approximately 13 grams. Cheeses like parmesan, brie, and cheddar all have higher saturated fat content, so it may be helpful to limit your consumption of these.
We get it—there’s nothing quite like a glass of red wine at a holiday party of a nice bourbon to warm you up after a cold day outside. However, if you’re battling high cholesterol, focusing on moderation when it comes to alcohol is key.
Stick to moderate amounts of alcohol
“Too many drinks can increase blood cholesterol and too much alcohol contributes unnecessary calories,” says Young. “If you’re going to drink at the holiday party, stick to moderate amounts; one drink a night for women and two for men.”
Although some studies have found that there may be a correlation between light alcohol consumption and higher HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind), the AHA says there isn’t enough proof to justify drinking for better heart health. There is research that connects heavy drinking and high cholesterol, as Young mentions—which means that if you have high cholesterol, your safest bet with alcohol is to you is to stick to drinking moderate amounts or trying to avoid it altogether.
Snack on nuts at the party
Nuts have actually been found to help reduce cholesterol levels, so this may be a great snack to have at a party. Research has found that nuts can reduce LDL cholesterol, as well as triglycerides, body weight, BMI, and blood pressure (in some circumstances). One study found that cashews in particular were able to help raise HDL (or “good”) cholesterol and lower blood pressure levels.
If you’re faced with some charcuterie-style appetizers at your next gathering, go for a handful of nuts instead of the cheese. Or, if you’re worried about overdoing it on junk food at the party, snack on some nuts beforehand.
Another way you can help manage your cholesterol levels during a season of many indulgences is look for the crudités, or the vegetable plate, at your next party. This can help fill you up faster and maybe help alleviate the temptation of all those desserts, and it can also help you get a dose of necessary nutrients.
“Vegetables are high in fiber and antioxidants, and they can help to reduce cholesterol,” says Young. “Plus, they are fairly low in calories and you can enjoy a generous portion without worrying about weight gain.” Managing your weight is one helpful way of lowering your LDL cholesterol levels.