You’re at risk of high cholesterol if the condition runs in your family, but lifestyle choices, like what you eat and drink, can also impact your likelihood of having high cholesterol levels. If you’re over 50 and you’ve already been diagnosed with high cholesterol or know you’re at risk of developing the disease, it’s important for you to know what dietary changes you can make right now to keep your body healthy.
High cholesterol, also known as dyslipidemia, refers to abnormal levels of triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein, and/or high-density lipoprotein in the blood, according to registered dietitian Kim Yawitz, RD.
“Genetics are at least partly to blame in some cases, but your diet can also have a big impact on your cholesterol levels,” explains Yawitz. “Certain foods and nutrients—like fiber, unsaturated fats, fruits, and vegetables—can help lower your bad cholesterol,” she says, adding that these foods and nutrients either directly lower cholesterol particles, adhere to them, so they can be eliminated, or block their absorption.
“On the other hand, a higher intake of total calories, saturated fats, and sugar can increase the production of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and triglycerides in your body while also lowering your levels of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol,” she says.
Sugar, in particular, is one of the worst foods to consume when it comes to cholesterol—especially when it comes to sugar-sweetened beverages. That’s because it’s much easier to gulp down high amounts of sugar via drinks than it is to consume it in foods.
“High-sugar diets can lower your HDL cholesterol, raise your triglyceride levels, and ramp up the production of LDL cholesterol in the liver,” says Yawitz. Remember, LDL = bad, HDL = good. That’s why giving up sugar-sweetened drinks is one of the best drinking habits to help keep your cholesterol levels in check over 50, she says.
Related: 17 foods that help you reduce cholesterol levels.
Why you should give up sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce your cholesterol after 50
As Yawitz explains, drinking too much sugar leads to unfavorable changes in cholesterol over a period of time.
“In one large study, adults 50 and older who drank 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks per day were 53% more likely to have high triglycerides and 98% more likely to have low HDL cholesterol levels than those who didn’t drink them at all,” she says.
Tips to replace sugary beverages
The good news: You don’t have to go cold turkey on the lattes, bottled green juices (often loaded with sugar), and packaged OJ if they’re a big part of your daily routine, says Yawitz, stressing that phasing them out slowly can make the process easier and more sustainable.
“I typically advise my clients to start by replacing just one sugar-sweetened drink per day with water, black coffee, or unsweetened tea.” Once you’ve mastered this shift, Yawitz suggests trying to do the same for another sugary beverage. Water with a few mint sprigs and cucumber slices for the win, friends.
Looking for more intel on maintaining healthy cholesterol levels? Check out Cholesterol-Lowering Secrets That Really Work.