Cholesterol – Healthy Eating Tips
Cholesterol is a type of fat produced naturally by the liver and found in the blood. Cholesterol is used by the body for many things, but too much cholesterol in the blood can cause problems.
Some foods contain cholesterol. This is called “dietary cholesterol” and it is only found in animal products. For most people, eating a high-cholesterol diet has little or no effect on blood cholesterol.
High blood cholesterol levels are mainly due to eating foods high in saturated fats and trans fats, and not unsaturated fats or fiber.
Types of cholesterol
There are two main types of cholesterol.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – also known as “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to the buildup of plaque (fatty deposits) in the arteries, which can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – also known as “good” cholesterol because it protects you from coronary heart disease.
What are the causes of high cholesterol?
Causes of high cholesterol levels: Here is what you need to know
- Not eating enough foods with healthy fats — healthy fats tend to raise good cholesterol (HDL).
- Eating foods with unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats) – fatty meats, whole fat dairy products, butter, coconut oil, palm oil, most fried takeaway foods and commercial baked goods (cakes, biscuits, sandwiches, pastries, etc.).
- Foods rich in fiber, especially soluble fiber, can lower blood levels of LDL cholesterol. Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds each day and incorporate fiber into your diet.
- Cholesterol in foods (dietary cholesterol) — has little effect on LDL (bad) cholesterol — but saturated fats and trans fats in foods have a greater effect.
- Also, eating seven eggs a week as part of a healthy, balanced diet low in saturated fat and trans fat does not increase the risk of heart disease.
- Genes — Your family history can affect your cholesterol levels (also known as familial hypercholesterolemia).
Some people have high cholesterol levels even when they eat a healthy balanced diet that is low in trans fats. These people may need to take cholesterol-lowering medications prescribed by their doctor.
Cholesterol and Healthy Eating
What we eat affects our cholesterol levels and reduces our risk of disease. Try to consume a variety of foods from each of the five food groups. Not only will you keep your diet interesting and healthy, but you will also provide your body with essential nutrients.
The Heart Foundation recommends.
- Lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- A variety of healthy sources of protein (especially seafood), legumes (such as beans and lentils), nuts and seeds. Eggs and lean poultry can also be added to a heart-healthy diet in small amounts. If you choose to eat red meat, make sure it’s lean and limit it to 1-3 times a week.
- Unflavored milk, yogurt and cheese. People with high cholesterol should choose low-fat varieties.
- Healthy fat choices – nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and their cooking oils.
- Instead of adding salt, flavor your meal with herbs and spices.
Also be aware of how much you are eating and whether you are filling up on unhealthy foods. As portions get larger over time, many people eat more than they should, which can lead to obesity and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Ideally, a healthy plate should contain 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbohydrate and 1/2 vegetable.
Serving sizes may vary depending on age, gender, and specific nutritional needs.
Tips for Healthy Eating and Lowering Cholesterol
In addition to a varied and healthy diet, try these tips to keep your cholesterol in check
- Limit take-out meals (e.g., pastries, cakes, pizza, fries, fish sticks, burgers, creamy pasta) to once a week.
- Limit salty, fatty, and sweet snacks to once a week (e.g., chips, cakes, pastries, cookies, cookies, lollipops, chocolate).
- Eat more vegetables – aim to eat 5 servings of vegetables per day. (1 serving is equivalent to 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables).
- Choose whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, and rice.
- Snack on unsalted nuts or fresh fruit (preferably 2 servings per day).
- Include beans (or legumes) (chickpeas, lentils, split peas, etc.) and legumes (white beans, kidney beans, three-bean mix, etc.) in at least two meals per week. Check food labels and choose products that are low in sodium (salt).
- Use spreads and margarines made with healthy unsaturated fats (such as canola, sunflower and extra virgin olive oils) rather than saturated fats (such as butter, coconut oil and cream).
- Use healthy oils that are suitable for cooking, such as canola, sunflower, soybean, olive (extra virgin is a good choice), sesame, and peanut oils.
- Use salad dressings and mayonnaise made with canola oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, olive oil (especially extra virgin), sesame oil and peanut oil.
- Plan to eat two to three servings per day of plant sterol-fortified foods (e.g., plant sterol-fortified margarine, yogurt, milk, and bread).
- Eat two to three servings (150 grams each) of fatty fish per week. Fish can be fresh, frozen or canned.
- Include up to 7 eggs per week.
- Choose lean meats (fat-free meat and skinless poultry) and no more than 350 grams of unprocessed red meat per week.
- Choose non-dairy foods and unsweetened beverages, such as low-fat milk, yogurt and calcium.
- Limit or avoid processed meats, including sausages and cured meats (such as salami).
If you have cholesterol problems, your dietitian can help you develop a healthy diet that meets your individual needs.
A healthy, balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats can help lower cholesterol levels.
Try to replace foods that contain unhealthy saturated and trans fats with foods that contain healthy fats.
Foods that are high in saturated (unhealthy) fats include:
- Fatty meats
- Whole foods
- Fried foods
- Processed foods
- Coconut oil
Foods high in trans fats (unhealthy) include:
- Fried foods
- Bakery products
Foods high in polyunsaturated (healthy) fats include:
- Margarine and spreadable oils such as sunflower, soy and safflower margarine.
- Fatty fish
- Some nuts and seeds.
Foods high in monounsaturated (healthy) fats include
- Margarine and spreadable oils (such as olive, canola, and peanut).
- Fruits and vegetables
- Some nuts
Here are some ways to lower your triglyceride levels
- Follow the Heart Healthy Eating Guidelines and eat healthy.
- Limit take-out meals and sweet, fatty, and salty snacks.
- Limit intake of sweetened beverages (soft drinks, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, etc.).
- Include foods that contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna).
It is important to lower high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by making lifestyle changes, such as changing certain foods and exercising regularly.
You may also need to take cholesterol-lowering medications (such as statins) to control your cholesterol and lower your risk of heart attack or stroke. Talk to your doctor.