You're working hard to eat right so you can lower your cholesterol levels. You're reading nutrition labels, buying fewer pre-packaged foods, and testing yourself often. But you're still struggling to keep your cholesterol down. What are you doing wrong?

The answer may surprise you. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), many foods that claim to be low cholesterol are high in saturated fat and/or trans fat. Since both saturated fat and trans fat contribute to high blood cholesterol, these foods may not be as healthy as their labels suggest.

Be a Savvy Shopper

The AHA has several tips that can turn anyone looking for low-cholesterol foods into a savvy shopper:

  • Check the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and calories in one serving of the product. A serving could be smaller than your normal portion, so it's important to take that into account.
  • Look at the ingredient list. The first ingredient listed is the one used most in the product. Fats and oils appear lower on the list in healthier products.
  • Watch out for trans fats. The Food and Drug Administration requires the amount of trans fat to be labeled on each product. It's ideal for trans fat to account for less than 1 percent of your total daily calories.

Low-Cholesterol Dining

In addition, beware of ingredients in baked goods, casseroles, and other dinner and lunch entrees. Almost all baked goods contain eggs, a major source of cholesterol that counts toward your daily intake. Eating out makes it hard to guesstimate exactly how much cholesterol is in a food, so the AHA recommends that you:

  • Look for entrees that are steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, or roasted. These foods often have less fat and calories than foods that are fried, crispy, or sauteed.
  • Have dressings and sauces placed on the side, so you can choose how much to use or skip them altogether.
  • Limit the amount of salt in your food by asking that it be prepared without added salt or MSG.
  • See if the restaurant can substitute fat-free milk for whole milk and vegetable or olive oil for butter when preparing your food.

The same guidelines apply when you're cooking at home, and the AHA recommends choosing lean cuts of meat and trimming off the visible fat before cooking. An added benefit of staying home: You'll be better able to control portion sizes since you're the chef.