Lower your cholesterol, one forkful at a time
The message is constant: Keep blood cholesterol levels down. But about one in two American adults tops the recommended daily intake of cholesterol in their diets. So how much is too much?
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010) recommends the consumption of less than 300 mg of cholesterol per day. Cholesterol is found in animal products like meat, poultry, egg yolks and dairy products. (Don't confuse cholesterol content in foods, measured by weight in milligrams, with cholesterol content in your body, measured via a blood test and reported as milligrams per volume of fluid in deciliters [mg/dl]).
There are different recommendations for pregnant women and those who have or are at risk for certain medical conditions. For example, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests less than 200 mg per day of dietary cholesterol under its Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC) treatment plan, aimed at reducing the risk of coronary artery disease.
But reducing dietary cholesterol alone is not sufficient. The guidelines include recommendations regarding other components of your diet, such as total fat, other types of fat, protein, carbohydrates, and fiber, as well as total calorie intake.
Some dietary cholesterol is necessary. Your body needs it as a building block for things like hormones and vitamin D. It's excess dietary cholesterol that may increase your serum (blood) cholesterol levels, contributing to blocked arteries and heart disease.
Happily, foods you choose can affect your serum cholesterol levels. To help keep serum cholesterol in check, consider eating more or less of foods listed below. Talk to your doctor if you have high serum cholesterol levels to learn if you should try diet alone or will require medication to control your cholesterol.
- Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains such as oats. The soluble fiber in these foods helps keep cholesterol out of your bloodstream.
- Low-fat or nonfat dairy products
- Fish, skinless poultry, and lean meat
- Soft tub or liquid margarine and vegetable oil spreads, in moderation
- Saturated fat. It raises cholesterol more than any other food component. Saturated fat lurks in marbled cuts of meat, poultry skin, whole-milk dairy products, lard, butter, bacon, and coconut and palm oils. Fried foods, many sweets, and prepared foods are very high in saturated fat.
- Trans fat. Watch for this artery clogger in stick margarine; baked goods including crackers, cookies, doughnuts, and bread; and foods fried in shortening, such as french fries and chicken. Check the label for oils listed as "hydrogenated" and "partially hydrogenated."
- Cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol doesn't raise your blood cholesterol level as much as saturated fat, but it's often found in the same foods, including meat, butter, cream, egg yolks, and cheese.
Call in the subs!
You can enjoy delicious food and lower your cholesterol at the same time by making some simple substitutions like these:
- Instead of regular granola, try low-fat granola, bran flakes, or plain oatmeal with fresh fruit.
- Instead of bacon or sausage, try soy links.
- Instead of cream-based soups, try broth-based soups.
- Instead of full-fat cheese, try reduced-calorie or fat-free cheese.
- Instead of bologna, salami, or liverwurst, try low-fat cold cuts like turkey breast.
- Instead of pasta with creamy white or cheese sauce, try pasta with red sauce and/or vegetables.
- Instead of regular ground beef, try leaner ground round or ground turkey, especially turkey breast.
- Instead of fried or sautéed chicken, try broiled, baked, grilled, poached, or roasted chicken without skin.
Snacks and desserts
- Instead of croissants, sweet rolls, doughnuts, or pastries, try whole grain English muffins, whole grain bagels, reduced-fat bran muffins, or rolls.