The cholesterol smart diet

What you eat greatly affects your blood cholesterol levels.  The key to lowering and maintaining optimum
cholesterol levels is to adopt heart healthy eating habits.  For many people this is confusing and making
good food choices often feels like a game of tug-of-war. Should I or shouldn’t
I eat that?  By following these simple
tips, you can begin a cholesterol smart diet today. 

Limit foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.

These nutrients in moderate to high
amounts raise your artery clogging cholesterol (LDL or bad cholesterol) which
can increase your risk for coronary heart disease. Reducing these foods is key
to successfully lowering your cholesterol combined with physical activity and weight

Saturated fat is usually solid at
room and refrigerator temperatures.  It
is found in foods such as: fatty cuts of meat, poultry with the skin, whole
milk dairy products, shortening, and some vegetable oils including coconut and
palm oils. 

Trans fat is a specific type of fat
that is formed when liquid oils are turned into solid fats such as shortening
or stick margarine.  This process is
called hydrogenation and it allows foods to have increased shelf life and flavour
stability.  Trans fat and saturated fat
can often be found together in the same foods. Main sources of trans fat are
foods made with hydrogenated vegetable oils such as crackers, cookies, candy,
snack foods, other commercially baked goods, and fried foods. 

Dietary cholesterol comes from
foods of animal origin such as organ meats (liver, kidney), egg yolks, whole
milk dairy products (butter, cream, cheese), and certain kinds of shell fish
(shrimp, lobster, crab)

Eggs and Cholesterol

Egg yolks are high in dietary
cholesterol. Limit egg yolks to 2 or fewer per week including yolks in baked
goods or processed foods.  Egg whites and
egg substitutes have no cholesterol.  Use
two egg whites or ¼ cup of egg substitute instead of one whole egg for baking
and cooking.

Butter vs. Margarine

As a general rule of thumb, soft or
liquid margarines contain lower combined amount of saturated fat, trans fat,
and cholesterol than butter. When selecting margarine look for brands that are
trans fat free.  If you don’t like the
taste of margarine, consider using light or whipped butter varieties or blends
of butter and canola/olive oil.  The most
important thing to remember is to use butter and margarine sparingly.

Read food labels. 

Choose foods low in saturated fat
and cholesterol by checking the % Daily Value column and follow this general
rule:  5% daily value or less is low and
20% daily value or more is high.  Trans
fat has no daily value listed on food labels but aim for products with 0 grams
of trans fat per serving.

Adopt a low fat diet.

Make a habit of choosing foods low
in saturated fat such as: fat free or low fat milk and dairy products, lean
meats, fish, chicken without the skin, whole grain products (pasta, rice, and
bread), fruits, vegetables, beans, dried peas, and lentils.

Cook light by broiling or
grilling.  Use a rack to drain fat when
broiling, roasting, or baking.  Spice up
your meals using herbs and spices instead of salt.  Use spray oils in place of butter or liquid

Load up on soluble fibre. 

Soluble fibre helps to block
cholesterol and fats from being absorbed through the intestine into the
bloodstream.  Choose hot or cold
breakfast cereals such as oatmeal and oat bran that have 3-4 grams of fibre per
serving.  For extra fibre benefits, add a
banana, peach, apple, or other fruit to your cereal.  Other sources include barley, broccoli,
carrots, and beans.  Adding black, kidney,
pinto, or other beans to salads is another excellent way to increase fibre
intake.  Your goal should be at least
5-10 grams of soluble fibre per day and preferably 10-25 grams a day to lower
your LDL (bad) cholesterol even more.

Add foods with plant sterols

Phytosterols are tasteless,
odourless substances found in fruits, vegetable, beans, nuts, seeds, and other
plant sources.  These substances have
also been found to help block absorption of cholesterol.  Products such as orange juice, healthy
margarines, and yogurt drinks are being fortified with plant sterols. Check
food labels to determine if a product has been fortified with plant sterols.

omega-3 fatty acids

Omega -3 fatty acids are found in
some fatty fish and plant sources such as walnuts, canola/soybean oil, and
flaxseed.  They do not affect LDL (bad)
cholesterol levels but they may protect the heart in other ways.  Omega -3 fats have been shown to help prevent
blood clots from forming and inflammation from affecting artery walls. Studies
indicate, for people who have already had heart attacks omega-3 fatty acids
reduce the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

The current recommendation is to
have about two (4 oz) fish meals every week. 
Fish highest in omega-3 fats are salmon, fresh tuna, sardines, and
mackerel. Canned tuna is not a major source of omega-3 fats.  Fish should be grilled or baked to avoid
adding unhealthy fats.  Canned varieties
of fish should be packed in water and low in sodium.  Pregnant women or nursing mothers should
avoid some types of fish due to mercury levels and advised to consult their
doctor for more information.

Choose alternative fats

You don’t completely need to
eliminate fat from your food.  Instead
choose healthier types of fat in moderation. 
Unsaturated fats (“good fats”) can actually help to lower blood
cholesterol levels when used in moderation.

Replace saturated and trans fats
with other sources such as olive, peanut, canola, soybean, corn, and sunflower
oils.  Choose non-hydrogenated soft
margarines (tub, liquid, or spray) more often but use sparingly.  Walnuts, almonds, and other nuts are
healthier alternatives for snacks. 
However, because nuts are high in calories, make sure your portion size
is approximately a handful or ¼ cup with no added salt or sugar.

Jodie Kelley Education and
Programs Coordinator at The Heart Health Centre. References “Your guide to
lowering cholesterol with TLC”, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, Mayo Clinic, FDA U. S. Food and Drug
Administration, Heart UK

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