Dietary Strategies to Keep Your Cholesterol in Check

Cholesterol is a fat like substance found in our bloodstream. Most is made by our liver but it also comes from foods that we eat, such as meat and dairy products. The 2 types of cholesterol made by our liver include high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL or “good” cholesterol helps to remove cholesterol from the bloodstream and artery walls. A higher HDL level is associated with a lower risk for heart disease and a level of 60 mg/dL or more is ideal. LDL or “bad” cholesterol circulate to body cells, carrying cholesterol and other lipids and can stick to our artery walls. A higher LDL level is associated with a greater risk for heart disease and levels should be below 100 mg/dL. A total cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL is ideal. It is important to know your cholesterol numbers so that you can better understand your risk for heart disease and take action if necessary.

In addition to getting plenty of physical activity, following a heart healthy diet can help you to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. This includes consuming less than 10% of calories from saturated fat, consuming as few trans fats as possible and limiting cholesterol to less than 300 mg/day. Those with high cholesterol or at increased risk for heart disease can further benefit from lowering saturated fat intake to 7 percent of calories and cholesterol to less than 200 mg per day.

Here are some tips to help you keep your cholesterol in check:

Eat more seafood- Aim to consume 2 servings of higher fat fish such as salmon or tuna each week. These fish are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. 

Choose lean protein- When eating beef, choose loin and round cuts, which are often leaner as well as ground beef that is at least 90% lean. When it comes to poultry, boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest choices. Lean ground poultry such as chicken or turkey are also good options. When buying pork or lamb, choose “loin” or “leg” cuts.

Use care when cooking- For lower-fat cooking methods choose grilling, baking or broiling instead of frying. Also trim any visible fat before cooking and drain fat from the pan after cooking.  

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 and 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. Try substituting butter, lard, shortening and stick margarine for oils, such as olive, canola, sunflower or safflower 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, can help to lower LDL cholesterol. To increase your intake of fiber rich foods, eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains such as oatmeal and legumes such as beans and peas. 

What about eggs? Eggs are packed with nutrients and can fit into a heart healthy diet. In fact, new research shows they are lower in cholesterol than 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 stay below the recommended limit. 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. 

For a heart-healthy meal, try Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia. This dish is low in fat, calories, sodium and cholesterol and provides a good source of lean protein.  

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