Chopping Vegetables

We all want to live longer, healthier lives and one way to improve overall health is by adopting a low-fat diet abundant in fiber-rich foods. Eating the right foods and limiting consumption of saturated fats, for example, can dramatically lower bad cholesterol, LDL. Naturally produced by the liver, cholesterol is essential to the functioning of our cells, but too much LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of the arteries and form plaque that can block blood flow to the heart, brain and other organs. High cholesterol is a leading of heart disease and stroke.

What do the numbers mean?

Start by having your blood-cholesterol levels checked. This should be done minimally every 3-5 years. Your doctor will order a complete blood cholesterol profile. Compare your numbers with the following guidelines published by the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) showing desirable and high levels and see where your numbers fall.

Desirable Levels
Total cholesterol < 200 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol < 100 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol > 40 mg/dL
Triglycerides < 150 mg/dL

High levels
Total cholesterol > 240 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol > 160 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol < 40 mg/dL
Triglycerides > 200 mg/dL

< (less than) > (greater than)

If your LDL (bad cholesterol) count is above 240 and your HDL (good cholesterol) is below 40, then it’s time to make some important dietary changes. In a cholesterol-lowering diet, 25-35 percent or less of the day’s total calories should come from fat.

Be kind to your heart: adopt a TLC diet

The TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Change) diet, recommended by the National Institutes of Health, is low in saturated fats. In fact, the NIH advocates that less than 7 percent of daily calories come from saturated fats and suggests that dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol that comes from the foods you eat) is limited to less than 200 mg per day. In a cholesterol-lowering diet, 25-35 percent or less of the day’s total calories should come from fat. Also limit sodium intake to less than 2400 mg per day.

So, what foods should you eat and which should you avoid?

Say YES to these low-fat, high-fiber foods:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fish
  • Skinless chicken
  • Whole-grain cereals, breads and pastas
  • Fat-free or 1% milk
  • Fat-free or low-fat yogurt
  • Olive oil

Say NO to these high-fat foods:

  • Fatty red meats and organ meats
  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Tropical oils (coconut, palm, palm kernel)
  • Bacon
  • Whole milk
  • Whole milk dairy products (cheese, yogurt, ice cream)

If you can’t eliminate these foods entirely, eat them sparingly and select cheese with a lower fat content, as well as lean cuts of meat or ice milk products.

Eliminating fat can also help you lose weight. Dietary fat contains over twice the calories of protein or carbohydrates.

Be sure to eat three main meals each day, including breakfast, and plan ahead for low-fat snacks in the morning and afternoon. That way you’ll avoid grabbing for a doughnut or fat laden iced coffee drink when hunger strikes and you’ll reach for an apple instead.

Another diet that can account for a dramatic drop in blood cholesterol is the Mediterranean Diet. Like the TLC diet, it includes generous amounts of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes as well as red wine and fish, with only occasional small servings of red meat.

Trim the fat and pump up the fiber

When it comes to heart-healthy diets, The American Heart Association suggests a diet that is rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber. According to the AHA, increasing fiber, especially non-soluble fiber, such as: oat bran, oatmeal, beans, peas, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, strawberries and apple pulp, in combination with a diet low in saturated and trans fat has been shown to dramatically lower blood cholesterol.

Saturated fats to be avoided can be found in some vegetable fats such as palm and coconut oil, and of course in butter, ice cream, red meats and cheese. Eat these sparingly and try to find low-fat or lean versions. The polyunsaturated fats found in sesame and sunflower oils or the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are better for you. Also, use olive or canola oils which have monounsaturated fats at their base.

You can decrease the cholesterol in your body by as much as 20 percent by substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats.

Check out the labels

As much as possible, eliminate prepackaged foods and instead concentrate on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, and fish or skinless poultry. If you must buy some prepackaged or ready-to-heat-and-eat foods, before placing them in your shopping cart, take a careful look at the labels. Read the “Nutrition Facts” panel on the can or box. Look for the number of calories from fat. Remember, a low-fat diet means that less than 30% of your daily calories come from fat. So be careful to select foods that fall below that number.

HINT: To figure the percentage of calories from fat in an individual food, simply divide the fat calories by total calories and multiply by 100.

Eliminating fat can also help you lose weight. Dietary fat contains over twice the calories of protein or carbohydrates.

Step up your exercise program

A good rule of thumb is to set aside 30 minutes each day for physical activity, such as biking, walking, swimming or aerobics. If you can’t squeeze a half hour out of your daily schedule, then consider doing several ten-minute sessions each day and use every opportunity you can to climb stairs, take a brisk walk at lunch, do a series of jumping jacks, or jump rope.

Exercise helps you maintain muscle tissue and burn body fat. It resets your body’s metabolism so that you burn excess calories.

Do something you like and stick with it! Make it part of your daily routine. Exercise can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve fitness and reduce your weight. Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential to helping you lower your blood cholesterol.

Cut the fat out of eating out

Many of us have a hard time sticking to a healthy diet because we eat out more than once or twice a week, but eating out can be healthy. With proper diet, most individuals are able to significantly lower their blood cholesterols. To learn more, visit these informative websites and start eating healthier today: