Cholesterol is a fat like substance found in our bloodstream. Most is made by our liver but it is also found in animal based foods, such as meat and dairy products. There are 2 types of cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL or “good” cholesterol helps to remove cholesterol from our bloodstream and artery walls. LDL or “bad” cholesterol can stick to our artery walls increasing our risk for stroke and heart disease.
To improve your cholesterol levels, it is important to get plenty of physical activity and follow a heart healthy diet. This includes limiting dietary cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day, limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your total calorie intake and eating as few trans fats as possible. Here are some heart healthy tips:
- Eat more seafood- Aim to consume 2 servings of higher fat fish such as salmon or tuna each week. The fat in fish is rich in heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
- Choose lean protein- For beef, loin and round cuts are often leaner as well as ground beef that is 92% lean or greater. When it comes to poultry, boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest choices. Ground poultry such as chicken or turkey are also good options. When buying pork or lamb, look for the words “loin” or “leg” as those cuts tend to be lower in fat. To further reduce fat, trim visible fat from meats.
- Use care when cooking- For lower fat cooking methods choose grilling, baking or broiling instead of frying.
- Pay attention to portions- Just as important as what you eat is how much you eat. When it comes to meat, one serving is the size of a deck of cards. Fill the rest of your plate with colorful fruits or vegetables and whole grains such as brown rice.
- Choose low-fat or fat free dairy foods- Low-fat and fat-free dairy foods contain the same important bone building nutrients as higher fat versions.
- Choose your fats wisely- Replace saturated fats with healthy fats including mono and polyunsaturated sources. To do this, try substituting butter, lard, shortening and stick margarine for olive or canola oil. Also check food labels and limit your intake of foods containing trans fats or those with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as one of the main ingredients.
- Fill up on fiber rich foods- Fiber, especially soluble fiber, may help to lower cholesterol by binding to fatty substances in the body and helping to eliminate them. To increase your intake of fiber rich foods, eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.
- What about eggs? Eggs have received a bad reputation, but despite containing some fat and cholesterol, they are packed with nutrients and can fit into a heart healthy diet. In fact, new research shows they are lower in cholesterol than we once thought. According to the USDA, one large egg contains about 185 mg of cholesterol so it is possible to eat an egg each day and still stay below the recommended 300 mg of cholesterol per day. If you want to include an egg in your daily meal plan, make sure to choose low cholesterol foods throughout the day and if you want more than one egg, consider combining one whole egg with egg whites.