My Cholesterol is High. Is Shawarma Safe for Me?
One of the most impressive and savory dishes you can eat is Shawarma. This combination of meat is traditional and eaten today in countries around the world. However, eating shawarma regularly may not be such a good idea if you have high cholesterol. High cholesterol is a condition that requires lifestyle changes and unfortunately, that means limiting your consumption of high fat, high cholesterol foods.
What Makes Shawarma Bad for Me?
Shawarma is not a completely unhealthy dish. It does have healthy fats and a good level of protein for those who are deficient in these areas, but it is not all good either. Shawarma maintains a lot of unhealthy fats as well. Unhealthy fatty acids in Shawarma can cause bad cholesterol levels to rise and put significant strain on your heart. By reducing your consumption of shawarma, you can reduce your cholesterol and improve your weight at the same time. Anytime you can reduce your caloric and fat intake, you are benefiting your cholesterol levels.
People with high cholesterol are told to avoid foods containing processed oils such as canola and vegetable oil. Foods such as potato chips and processed food have a variety of unhealthy fats and additives that attribute to further cholesterol-related issues. Processed meats and organ meats should be avoided as well.
Instead, those who have high cholesterol should eat foods rich in unsaturated fats and fiber. Foods such as whole grain rice, pasta, and bread are preferred over standard, carb-rich varieties. Experts also suggest avoiding red meats and instead, eating a variety of fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and herring. Cholesterol-free foods will not add to the condition and many, especially those with enhanced fiber, will reduce cholesterol levels within the body. Shawarma is not recommended for high cholesterol patients as it does not provide essential nutrients to the body and can be comprised of a variety of unhealthy meat varieties.
Nutritional Break Down of Shawarma
Shawarma tastes incredible and due to the abundance of spices used; a serving of shawarma has an average of 650mg of sodium. Sodium does not affect cholesterol levels within the body, but it has been proven to exacerbate other issues such as heart disease, so it is best to limit your consumption of excess sodium.
A serving of shawarma also contains up to 48 grams of carbohydrates but does have 41.6 grams of protein. As for cholesterol, a serving of shawarma has 85g of cholesterol. The recommended daily value of cholesterol according to the National Lung and Blood Institute is 200mg, so it is plain to see that shawarma maintains far more cholesterol than is recommended for anyone.
You can also expect up to 475 calories per serving, so it is easy to see why no cardiologist would recommend shawarma as a part of a healthy, low cholesterol diet.
However, there are some health attributes to shawarma. It is an excellent source of Vitamin A which is a healthy vitamin for your immune system as well as your vision. B6 is also abundant in shawarma and has been linked to brain health. A deficiency in this nutrient has been shown to increase muscle pains, depression, and anxiety. Folate, iron, and protein are abundant in shawarma making it a good food for expectant mothers with no current cholesterol concerns.
Can I Make Shawarma Healthier?
Traditional shawarma is loaded with cholesterol due to its meaty composition. It is generally noted as street food in Middle Eastern countries and served on a variety of types of bread with various additions and sauces to alter flavor and composition. Where traditional shawarma might be something you will want to avoid, there are ways of making the dish healthier.
A better way to enjoy shawarma is to utilize leaner meats in the process. Chicken shawarma is far more cholesterol friendly than the fatty meat varieties from street vendors. The use of Middle Eastern spices is what makes the shawarma flavor so appealing, and chicken is a highly adaptable alternative to traditional shawarma.
Chicken shawarma offers essential protein, fiber, and a reduced number of calories. It is also easy to make at home. The benefit of cooking chicken shawarma for yourself is the ability to control salt added and customize sauces added. Utilizing yogurt-based sauces can reduce cholesterol consumption and adding herbs such as dill or even mint will provide a fresh Mediterranean quality to your recipe. Sauces such as Tzatziki work well with chicken shawarma and are an excellent alternative to mayonnaise-based sauces that are notably high in cholesterol.
When thinking about bread for your chicken shawarma, you can eliminate it from the dish by adding simple greens to the recipe. A chicken shawarma salad is a great way to get essential leafy greens and healthy vegetables into your diet, but for those who desire a more filling bread, there are plenty of options.
Consider flatbreads comprised of whole grains. These flatbreads also do not have to taste bad. Many varieties are comprised of healthy, vegetable-based compounds that add both flavor and nutrients. Herb flatbreads add to the flavor without adding additional fats or calories and this type of wrap or flatbread is among the best way to enjoy your chicken shawarma while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
So, No Shawarma Then?
Traditional shawarma, like the ones street vendors peddle, is not a good idea for anyone with high cholesterol. The cholesterol content is simply too high for making it a part of your regular diet, but like everything in your diet, moderation is the key. If you are out, on rare occasions, and decide to indulge in traditional shawarma, go ahead. However, we recommend keeping portions small and maybe sharing them with a companion. That way, you will still have the taste of your beloved shawarma without negatively impacting your low cholesterol diet needs.
Other Ways to Reduce Cholesterol
Apart from reducing your consumption of traditional shawarma and other cholesterol-rich foods, there are plenty of things your physician will recommend to help you reduce cholesterol in your body. First, exercise is the key to increasing your health while empowering your body to do more. Start with a short, healthy walk daily and increase it steadily. Do not push yourself too hard in the beginning and allow the walk to become a regular part of your daily routine.
Additionally, take note of snack foods within your home. Snacking is fun but can also aid in raising cholesterol when you snack on chips, processed crackers, and fried foods. Take time to invest in healthier snack alternatives. Fruits and vegetables are among the healthiest varieties of low cholesterol foods and many fruits are also available in dried varieties for those who want a cholesterol-free chip option.
In truth, you do not need to give up all enjoyable foods such as shawarma, but merely reduce your consumption of them or find alternative ways to enjoy the same flavor profiles without the added cholesterol. Try out a variety of recipes for shawarma using different spices and meats to make it healthier and more cholesterol friendly.