Tips for Eating with High Cholesterol
As a doctor, I am constantly looking at numbers - temperature, pulse, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol - numbers that are important and need to be interpreted.
Unfortunately though, it is easy to loose sight of the big picture amidst the statistics. Considering cholesterol specifically, examining the numbers and considering the goal is important.
Today one-in-six American adults have high cholesterol - a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke which are both leading killers in America. Lowering cholesterol can be challenging considering that one of the two factors that contribute to high cholesterol, genetics, cannot be changed, however, the other, dietary intake, can be.
Luckily, as we'll discuss in this blog, the diet changes needed to lower cholesterol are much less complicated than most people would think.
Let's Start With The Basics
There are two types of cholesterol, HDL (good) and LDL (bad) and in general, it is desirable to have a high HDL and low LDL.
- HDL can be raised through aerobic exercise. Genetics also plays a role.
- LDL is the cholesterol which comes from our diet. In general, cholesterol is only found in foods that contain animal products so, to lower LDL cholesterol with diet, we need to examine the animal products that we are eating. Things are not so black and white, however, with trans fats which can be found in many fatty foods. (This will be covered briefly when I discuss margarine but to keep it simple, we’ll just focus on cholesterol.)
Animal Products in a Cholesterol Lowering Diet
Meat: Walking down the cholesterol ladder from high to low we have red meat, pork, chicken and fish. The catch here is shellfish, like shrimp. It is common sense to put all seafood in the same category as fish, but shellfish is actually high in cholesterol. So, if you are looking to lower your cholesterol intake at a seafood restaurant, chose the fish instead of the shrimp.
Eggs: Eggs in general are high in cholesterol. But, all the cholesterol is contained in the yolk. and the white is a great source of protein. Rather than telling people to cut out eggs all-together, I advise patients to cook their eggs a bit smarter. If making a couple eggs, instead, make three and take out two yolks. In doing this you will cut the cholesterol in half and boost the protein in your meal!
Dairy: Like meat, milk is also fairly obvious. Walking down the cholesterol ladder from high to low we have whole milk, 2%, 1%, ½% and skim. With cheese, it is about the color. The darker the cheese, the higher the cholesterol. So, if you are at Subway, chose the provolone instead of the cheddar to lower the cholesterol in the meal.
Butter Vs Margarine: Which is Better for a Cholesterol Lowering Diet?
There is a huge debate regarding the health of butter vs margarine. I will not cover the entire scope of it in this blog, but will say that butter has cholesterol and margarine does not. HOWEVER, margarine does tend to contain trans fat, which can increase cholesterol and is not natural.
Instead trans fats are created when vegetable fats are taken and manipulated to (through transferring a hydrogen atom on the molecule) to make them solid at room temperature. The cost of this solid form is increased artery-clogging potential. The solution (if you need your butter taste) is to get “zero trans fat or trans fat-free” margarine.