High Cholesterol Diet Plan: What to Eat & Avoid
In a perfect world, all of your numbers return to an optimal range each time you undergo a blood test. You would jump into the sunset from your doctor's office, as you are sure that your health is in perfect condition. In reality, however, we do not always get the results we hope for. It is not uncommon for a blood test to find that your cholesterol level is high, so adhering to a high cholesterol diet plan may be useful.
As we have all heard of the link between blood cholesterol and heart disease, it can be a downer to find out if your HDL or LDL has gotten out of hand. Thankfully, your diet can make a big contribution to getting your numbers back to a healthy range. And while you may think that a diagnosis of high cholesterol means that you are condemned to a life full of rabbit food, you will never be afraid! A cholesterol-lowering diet plan can actually be full of satisfying, interesting options.
We talked to health experts to find out how to get healthy blood cholesterol.
What do your numbers mean?
If you look at your blood test results, you've probably noticed that there are two types of cholesterol, LDL and HDL. You may also have heard that there are "good" and "bad" cholesterol, both of which are important in assessing your cardiovascular health. Still confused?
A quick refresher: LDL or low-density lipoprotein is the "bad" type of cholesterol. It transports tiny drops of fat through the body and deposits them in your arteries where they block blood flow. (You may think of the "L" in LDL as the type of cholesterol that needs to be kept low.) HDL or high-density lipoprotein, on the other hand, is the "good" type of cholesterol that helps cleanse your blood vessels. Knotty crap, which can clog her. (Remember that this "H" number is the helpful one you want to hold up.)
You can take various measures to change your LDL and HDL levels during a diet. In general, however, there are no conflicts between diet tips to increase and decrease one value. If both numbers need to be adjusted, no two separate diet plans are needed.
The basics of a cholesterol management diet
Is cholesterol important in food?
Theoretically, it is logical to assume that the more cholesterol you eat, the more cholesterol in your blood. At least the researchers believed that earlier. In recent years, however, this theory has been invalidated. A 2010 study found that most of the research supporting this idea was done on animals. In humans, there is simply no evidence that eating cholesterol leads to unhealthy numbers. In fact, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans does not suggest limiting cholesterol in foods. "Cholesterol in food plays only a minor role in the amount of cholesterol in our blood," confirms Kris Sollid, RD, Senior Director of Nutrition Communications at the International Food Information Council. "[It] is no longer considered a nutrient for overconsumption. "
So, if cholesterol in our eggs and red meat is not the fool of heart disease, what's the impact? Two things: fiber and fat.
The role of the fiber
While both soluble and insoluble fiber are helpful, soluble fiber is the most important rock star in the diet of cholesterol management. Interestingly, scientists are not 100 percent sure why it works, but it's likely that this type of fiber binds to cholesterol particles in the digestive system and flushes them out of the body before they can be absorbed. Whatever the cause, one thing is for sure: Eating plenty of soluble fiber with foods like black beans, oat bran, avocados and Brussels sprouts can both increase good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol.
The role of fat
The next nutrient in the two-track diet for cholesterol is fat. Different types of fat can have different effects on your cholesterol level, whether good or bad. Especially for healthier numbers, ruthlessly eliminate trans fats from your high cholesterol diet. These harmful fats have the dubious distinction of both increasing bad cholesterol and lowering good cholesterol. Although artificially engineered versions of trans fat are technically prohibited in the United States, they may still lurk in some foods. Check the labels for all types of hardened oils – this is the "code" for trans fat.
On the other hand, there is one type of fat that the cardiovascular system loves: heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. "Getting enough omega-3 fatty acids (think of high-fat fish, flaxseed and walnuts), a type of polyunsaturated fat, can help raise HDL cholesterol," says Sollid. The effect of omega-3 fatty acids may also be related to how they change triglycerides – another position in your blood test. Lowering triglycerides can lower cholesterol and vice versa.
"Very high triglycerides can increase the total cholesterol level," says cardiologist and lipidologist dr. Robert Greenfield. "Oily fish like salmon, herring, sardines etc. can lower the triglycerides." Try to include seafood in your high cholesterol diet at least twice a week, as in healthy seafood recipes.
Concerning the influence of saturated fatty acids on the cholesterol level the opinions of the experts are inconsistent. For a long time, from a medical perspective, saturated fat led to clogged arteries. But in the last few years something has changed. A meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal found that intake of saturated fat was not associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. And the beneficial nutrients in foods such as whole milk products can outweigh the consequences of their saturated fat content.
Overall, it is always wise to stay away from processed foods that contain a lot of saturated fat. As for whole foods containing saturated fatty acids like milk or red meat, the jury still is not sure how exactly they affect cholesterol in the blood. Until we know more, many experts urge those with high cholesterol to eat these foods in moderation.
Portion control for better numbers
When planning a high cholesterol diet, do not forget that portion control also plays a role. Your body weight can have a surprising effect on your cholesterol. "If someone is overweight or obese, they can lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol by losing only 3 to 5 percent of their body weight," says Sollid. For a healthy weight loss you should not lose more than one to two pounds a week.
Why have the dietary recommendations for cholesterol changed?
If you feel that the dietary recommendations for cholesterol have changed in the last few decades, do not be wrong. Why were eggs bad before and now they are well or is not saturated fat the problem we thought it was?
The fact is that nutrition research is constantly evolving. "For those who closely follow the evolution of nutrition science, the shifts are gradual and logical, but for those who do not follow them closely, the shifts may look like they came from the left field," says Sollid.
Rest assured that current recommendations are not readily given. "It's important to know that nutritional counseling is not fundamentally changed by a single study that makes headlines in the media," says Sollid. "Instead, shifts are made after reviewing a compilation of the highest quality evidence."
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Eat foods to improve cholesterol
To lower cholesterol levels, try to build meals and snacks as much as possible around whole, unprocessed foods. Here are a few.
- Full grain: Oats, barley, wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, quinoa, amaranth and farro.
- High-fiber, nutritious vegetables: Leafy vegetables, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, green beans and tomatoes.
- High-fiber, antioxidant-rich fruits: Berries, citrus fruits, bananas, apples, pears, peaches and melons.
- Fatty fish: Salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and anchovies.
- Lean protein: Chicken, turkey, beans, nuts, lentils, tofu, tempeh and edamame.
- Dairy: Yogurt, kefir, milk and (occasionally) cheese.
- Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory herbs and spices: Ginger, garlic, turmeric and basil.
Avoid foods to improve cholesterol
To keep your numbers at bay, stay away from high-sugar, high-processed and low-calorie foods. Here are a few things to watch out for.
- Fried foods: French fries, onion rings, roast chicken, potato chips.
- Processed meals and snacks: Boxed meal mixes, fast food, hot dogs, biscuits, baked goods, fruit snacks and sweets.
- Refined grains: White bread, white noodles, white rice and white flour in baking.
- Sweetened drinks: Juice, soda, energy drinks and excessive amounts of alcohol.
Special diets for high cholesterol
There is convincing evidence that certain specific diets can help bring your cholesterol levels into the healthy range. It has been found that the DASH diet, which stands for dietary approaches to stopping hypertension, lowers LDL and increases HDL.
Some studies have also linked the Mediterranean diet to a reduced risk of heart disease from clogged arteries.
"I recommend both the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet," says Greenfield, "as they emphasize the intake of fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, and plenty of water." Other nutritional trends such as keto and paleo require further study to determine their potential impact. Talk to your doctor if you are following a specific diet plan (or would like to start with it).
Example meal plan for high cholesterol
- Breakfast: 2 slices of wholemeal toast with 1/2 avocado puree sprinkled with salt and pepper
- Having lunch: Tuna Salad Wrap: 3 oz. Tuna, 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of chopped apples and 1 tablespoon of pecan pieces in a whole wheat tortilla; 1 packet of baked chips; Green salad: 2 cups of fresh spinach, 1/4 cup of grated carrots, 1 tablespoon olive oil-based dressing
- Snack: 2 graham crackers with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
- Dinner: Grain Tray: 1.5 cups of cooked quinoa, 1/2 cup of chickpeas, 1.5 cups of roasted broccoli, carrots and onion mixture, olive oil and lemon juice to taste
- Dessert: Yoghurt parfait: 1 cup of 2% Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries, 2 tablespoons of cereal and a dash of honey
How long does it take to lower cholesterol through the diet?
Before you make any major changes to your diet, you probably want to know how long it will take to see results in your blood count. "It takes time for the body to react and change," says Greenfield, who notes that this process can take several months. However, it is the slow and steady progress that usually produces the most lasting impact. Greenfield sees this as positive for a healthy future. "They are now establishing heart-healthy habits that you need to get to a healthy, mature age."