Conquering High Cholesterol

Allison Marshall, MS RD CDN CDE

The numbers are in: you have high cholesterol. While your first reaction may be visions of a fat-free diet and giving up your eggs for breakfast, think again! Newer research suggests that heart-healthy fats and even eggs can be included in a nutritious and delicious, cholesterol-lowering meal plan. Follow these guidelines below to lower your “not so healthy” LDLs and raise your “heart-protective” HDLs. Your Doc and your heart will thank you!

• Increase Your Intake of Soluble Fiber

Soluble fiber, which forms a gel-like substance in your body, helps to lower your LDL cholesterol by blocking the absorption of fat and cholesterol into your bloodstream. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats found in oatmeal and low-sugar oat cereal, legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils, fruits and vegetables, such as apples, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, Brussels sprouts, and carrots, and nuts, such as peanuts and almonds. Remember to gradually increase your intake of soluble fiber, with an initial goal of 5-10 grams per day, and drink plenty of water to prevent bloating.

• Choose Heart-Healthy Fats

Consuming a combination of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can help to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and protect “good” HDL cholesterol levels in your body. Excellent sources of monounsaturated fats include olive, peanut, and canola oils, avocadoes, almonds, pecans, and pumpkin seeds. High concentrations of polyunsaturated fats can be found in walnuts, flax seeds and flaxseed oil, and in cold-water fish, such as tuna, salmon, and cod.

• Limit Saturated Fat

High intake of saturated fat, found in fatty cuts of meat, the skin on poultry, whole-milk dairy products, and coconut and palm oils, can lead to higher LDL levels and heart disease. In order to limit your intake of saturated fat:

• Replace fatty cuts of meat with leaner cuts of beef (labeled “loin,” “extra lean,” “round”), chicken breast and turkey cutlets without skin, pork loin, veggie burgers, tofu, salmon, shrimp, and beans.

• Replace coconut and palm oils with heart-healthy canola, olive or peanut oil.

• Choose lower fat or fat free versions of milk, cheese, and other dairy products.

• Avoid Trans Fat

Newer research suggests that even a small amount of trans fats in your diet can raise your LDL levels and lower your HDL levels, significantly raising your risk for heart disease. Try to avoid all trans fats, listed as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils on the ingredients label, which are predominantly found in commercially prepared cookies, crackers, cakes, snack foods, margarine, and fried foods prepared in fast food chains and other restaurants.

• Moderate Egg Intake May be OK!

In the past, eggs, along with shrimp and lobster, were on the “forbidden list” due to their high cholesterol content. However, research suggests that for most people, saturated and trans fat in food has a much greater effect on LDL cholesterol levels than cholesterol in food. This means that most people can safely consume up to one whole egg per day (feel free to mix with additional egg whites) without raising LDL levels. Just remember to skip the sides of sausage and bacon, which are high in saturated fat. Instead, pair with whole wheat toast and fresh fruit. A word of caution for people with diabetes, heart disease, and the small percentage of the population who are very sensitive to dietary cholesterol intake: consuming one egg per day may increase your risk for heart disease. Instead, limit egg consumption to 3 yolks per week or opt for eggs whites.

• Remember to Be Physically Active

Regular physical activity can help lower your LDL, raise your HDL, and lower triglyceride levels. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, gardening, dancing, or swimming, every day. Remember to check with your healthcare professional before starting any exercise program, start slowly, and gradually increase your effort.

• Lowering Triglyceride Levels

If you have also been diagnosed with high triglyceride levels, another risk factor for heart disease, it is important to follow the dietary and physically activity guidelines above. In addition, it’s a good idea to:

• Lose weight if overweight

• Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men; some people may need to avoid alcohol entirely

• Avoid smoking

• Limit intake of sugary and refined foods made with white flour (choose low-sugar, high-fiber carbohydrates instead)