These days with the abundance of high saturated fat foods in our food supply, I don’t think it’s an understatement to say everyone knows someone with high cholesterol. Just to clarify, cholesterol in itself is not bad. In fact, we do need cholesterol especially good cholesterol (HDL) for our bodies to function well and stay healthy. It is the excess of bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides (TG) that causes you to be a risk of heart disease. The aim of a low cholesterol diet plan is to reduce the LDL and TG and to maintain healthy levels of HDL. All you need is really a few minor changes easy dietary changes to achieve that.
Rule #1 : Go Lean On Saturated Fat
Saturated fat is bad fat that increases the LDL (think bad cholesterol). It is found mainly in fatty cuts of meat, full cream dairy and butter. I know these are the stuff that makes our food taste yummy, so what is so bad about them?
80% of the cholesterol in our body is produced by our own liver. And what does the liver use to produce cholesterol? The answer is saturated fat. All you need to do is to reduce your saturated fat intake by 50% and you will be surprised that how much your cholesterol will improve. Here are 10 simple ways to cut down your saturated fat intake:
- Always opt for leaner cuts of meat e.g. tenderloin
- Trim of all visible fat and skin from meat/poultry before cooking
- Consume more white meat and less dark meat
- Limit the intake of red meat to not more than 3 times per week
- Replace full-cream dairy with low-fat, skim and reduced-fat milk and dairy products
- Use a vegetable spread e.g. canola spread in replacement of butter
- Limit intake of fried foods to once a week
- Make your own minced meat using lean cuts of steak instead of pre-prepared minced
- Always go for fresh meat, avoid processed meat products that doesn’t bear a resemblance to real meat e.g. pepperoni
- Choose vinaigrette-based and fat-free salad dressings over creamy dressings
Rule # 2 Incorporate Good Fats Into Your Low Cholesterol Diet Plan
Small amounts of good fats can in fact help to lower your LDL and TG levels and maximize your cardiovascular well-being. Do note the keyword is ‘small amounts’, don’t start going crazy over your olive oil and add it to your food like water.
There are 2 main categories of good fats:
Monounsaturated fats: Found mainly in olive oil, canola oil and avocados
Polyunsaturated fats: Found mainly in oily fish, sunflower oil, corn oil, nuts and seeds
To incorporate more good fats into your diet, try the following:
- Use a unsaturated cooking oil. Olive oil and canola oil are good choices
- Enjoy a small handful of raw nuts (6-8 nuts) as a snack
- Have a serving of oily fish 2-3 times a week and taking a daily omega-3 supplement can also very useful especially if you have elevated LDL and TG
- Use a nut spread e.g. almond spread, sesame spread for your toast, pasta and salads in replacement of butter
- Flavor your cereals and salads with a hearty dose of flaxseed, sunflower and pumpkin seeds
Rule #3 Avoid Trans Fat At Much As Possible
Trans fat are oils that have been industrially modified to improve the texture and mouth feel of processed foods. At high temperatures of cooking especially frying, the frying oil can also be converted to trans fat. The danger of trans fat is that it will raise the bad stuff and lower the good stuff in your body i.e. increases LDL and TG and decreases HDL.
As you may already gather, trans fat is basically found in many processed foods and foods that have been deep fried at high temperatures. Traditionally, the old method of manufacturing margarine also results in a high trans fat content. These days, many food manufacturers have taken an effort to make their food trans fat free or at least minimize the amount present.
Pay close attention to food labels especially the ingredients list when you are doing your grocery shopping. Anything that contains ‘partially hydrogenated oils, hydrogenated oils and vegetable shortening’ means that the product contains trans fat. Of course it will be ridiculous for me to say that you have to cut out trans fat completely, that will be impossible. However, do make a conscious effort to choose foods that are trans fat free or at least low in trans fat (< 1g per serving).
Rule #4 Fiber, Fiber And Fiber
Dietary fiber does wonders to our body. It helps to promote bowel health, regulate our blood sugars, maintain a healthy weight and it even helps to lower our cholesterol levels. There are 2 types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Insoluble fiber is found mainly in whole grains and vegetables. It helps to improve bowel movement by adding bulk to the stools. By doing so, it also increases the body’s discharge of bile salt and bile juice which are excreted along side with the stools. The body uses cholesterol to produce bile salts and bile juices. So essentially, insoluble fiber helps to increase the body’s usage and metabolism of cholesterol.
Soluble fiber is found primarily in oats, lentils, seeds, nuts and fruits. It binds the dietary cholesterol in the gut and interferes with the cholesterol absorption process. You can reduce your absorption of cholesterol by up to 20% just by having a soluble fiber rich meal.
Rule #5 Limit Intake Of Cholesterol- Rich Foods
Although the primary focus is to reduce your saturated fat intake, there are some foods that are naturally high in dietary cholesterol which also increases LDL when consumed in excess. Foods rich in dietary cholesterol include egg yolks, seafood, crustaceans roe and offal. Do limit your intake of cholesterol-rich foods to not more than once biweekly. For egg yolks, limiting to 3 per week is recommended.
Low Is Gold
Remember that high cholesterol is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease as well as diabetes. It can be treated and is certainly preventable. Start by giving your diet a cleanup with my 5 golden rules of the low cholesterol diet plan. Your cholesterol levels will improve and you will probably lose a few inches off your waistline too!