You just got a call from your doctor’s office and were told your cholesterol is high. Maybe you were told you would need to be placed on a cholesterol lowering medication. Or maybe it would be best to try “lifestyle modification” for a period of time and then recheck your levels and see if they improved. Perhaps your physician provided you with the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program of the US National Institutes of Health, which although very scientific, is not the most tangible and user-friendly. It states:
• You may get 25% to 35% of your daily calories from fat, mainly from unsaturated fat.
• Most of the fat should be monounsaturated, and only 10% of the fat should be polyunsaturated fat.
• Less than 7% of your daily calories should come from saturated fat.
• Eat no more than 200 mg of dietary cholesterol a day.
All great recommendations, but they still leave you wondering, what exactly does all that mean? You know you need to make some changes with respect to your diet and physical activity, but you’d like some specifics.
I put this quick handout together to shed some light into what are often nebulous lifestyle recommendations aimed at improving the health of our patients. These tips are not just for people with high cholesterol. They are for everyone. Whether you have high cholesterol and would like to eventually come off of your Lipitor or were told your cholesterol is a touch elevated and that your diet could stand some improvement or your cholesterol is perfectly normal and you’d like to keep it that way…I hope you find these tips helpful and relatively easy to follow.
First of all, cholesterol is affected by our genes AND our lifestyles. We can’t change our genetic make-up, so let’s do something about what we CAN change: the decisions we make on a day to day basis.
Of course we have all heard these first 5 basic concepts, but they’re so important they deserve being repeated over and over again:
1. Aerobic exercise- I tell my patients who don’t exercise at all to start slow and shoot for at least 3 days a week of ANY exercise to get the heart rate going. Whether it’s zumba, tennis, power walking or jumping around your living room for 30 minutes to your favorite tunes, get up and MOVE! If you are already working out 2-3 days a week, you should increase the frequency so that you are doing so on most days of the week. Again, to avoid boredom, change it up! I definitely need variety to keep myself in the groove so I alternate between p90x, classes at the gym, elliptical, power walking and so on.
2. Stop smoking- if the risk of a whole slew of cancers isn’t enough to make you quit, maybe the risk of heart disease is. Smoking has many many adverse effects, one of which is elevating LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowering HDL (good cholesterol)- basically the opposite of what you want. Stopping smoking will improve your health on multiple different levels.
3. Shed some pounds- losing weight will help lower LDL and boost HDL. Here is a link to a BMI calculator from the NIH in case you were curious.
4. Cut back on saturated fat- Hasta La Vista red meat, whole milk, coconut/palm oils, butter and deep frying. Instead say hello to extra-lean meats, skim/low-fat dairy products, olive/sunflower/safflower oil and grilling/baking.
5. Say NO to trans-fats-look for trans-free alternatives and stay away from fast food chains. No matter how enticing that burger and fries may look, it’s just not worth it.
Now…what to eat specifically?
DR. A's Cholesterol Lowering Diet
1. Whole grains like whole wheat, whole oats and oatmeal, whole rye, whole-grain barley, brown rice, and popcorn. My most important prescription for lowering cholesterol is telling my patients to have a bowl of oatmeal every morning (made with low fat milk or almond milk) and add some ground flaxseed and/or chia seed for extra UMPH while it’s cooking--jazz it up with some fresh fruit (peaches, bananas or blueberries are my favorite!) and nuts.
|Prescription: 1 bowl oatmeal q morning with fruit and nuts|
2. Beans and legumes like garbanzo, kidney, navy, and black beans, lentils and edamame.
3. Fresh fruits like apples, pears, bananas, grapes, citrus and berries. The sky is the limit here!
4. Veggies like eggplant, artichoke, beets, spinach, broccoli, okra and peas.
5. Fatty fish and don’t fry it! Grill or bake instead! Eat fish 2-3 times a week for optimum benefits. Get your omega 3 fatty acids on by going for mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, halibut. PS- ground flaxseed is an alternative excellent source of omega-3s.
6. Nuts like walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pecans- not salted or sugared! Use instead of cheese or croutons in salads.
7. Oils like olive, canola, sunflower, safflower instead of butter or shortening when cooking! You’ll be amazed at how tasty these are!
8. Egg whites instead of whole eggs are a solid protein source. Alternatively, you can try cholesterol free egg substitute
9. Foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols- OJ and yogurt beverages with added plant sterols or stanols can help lower LDL.
10. And don’t forget! You don’t need high calorie/high cholesterol ingredients to boost flavor! Say goodbye to sour cream, half and half and butter. Instead, discover your spice rack! Reach for turmeric, curry, cumin, paprika, cinnamon and the list goes on! And that’s not all! Fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, oregano, dill, rosemary, sage, etc are fabulous ways to transform an ordinary dish into an extraordinary one!
|Turkish Spice Bazaar!|
One last point. This cholesterol lowering diet will not only benefit your heart. It will have your bones, digestive tract, brain AND palate thanking you :-)