What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that exists in all of our bodies. Some of our organs, like the brain and the heart, actually need cholesterol to perform their functions. It travels through the body in the bloodstream and is processed by the liver. So far, that's not a problem. The problem comes when we have excess cholesterol. It can attach itself to the walls of our blood vessels, forming a substance called plaque, which is really just cholesterol that the body stores in a blood vessel and is covered over with a protective coating. But there are several problems with that. One is that the plaque can build up to the point where it can block a blood vessel. This can cause a restriction of blood flow to important organs like the heart and the brain. The other problem occurs if the coating gets broken and the cholesterol gets released back into the bloodstream. This causes the body to send chemicals that help the blood to clot to try and get the cholesterol back under cover and can cause a blood clot. If that clot blocks an artery in the heart, that's what we call a heart attack. If it happens in the brain, that's a stroke.
The next question is what causes us to have high cholesterol. As you've probably heard in the advertisements on television, cholesterol is caused both by genetic factors and your diet. If your parents or grandparents had high cholesterol, the chances increase that you will too. The one thing doctors don't know at this point is whether that elevated risk is caused entirely by genetics or whether people whose parents had bad eating habits tend to eat the same way, meaning that even the hereditary risk may still be caused partly by diet. What we do know is that diet plays a major part in determining cholesterol levels. And the biggest culprit in our diets is saturated fats. Unfortunately, a lot of the things that we like to eat are high in saturated fats, such as fatty meats; fried foods; high-fat dairy products like whole milk, cream, and cheese made from whole milk; and commercial baked products.
What about Good and Bad Cholesterol?
When your doctor does a blood test to check your cholesterol levels, he's looking for a couple of different things. These are subcomponents of cholesterol, and they are not at all the same in terms of your health. The three primary ones most often tested for are low-density lipoproteins (LDL), high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and triglycerides. The levels of these cholesterol components are measured in mg/dl, the number of milligrams of the substance in a deciliter of blood. Let take a quick look at each of them.
LDL is commonly referred to as bad cholesterol. It is the part of your total cholesterol that plays the biggest role in blocking your arteries. When LDL attaches to an artery wall, it causes an inflammation that encourages more cholesterol to be deposited there, increasing the risk of a blockage or blood clot. Eating foods high in saturated fats is a major cause of an increase in LDL. The level of LDL that poses a risk is still a subject of discussion, but everyone agrees that anything over 200 mg/dl is dangerous. Some doctors believe that, depending on the source and on what other risk factors (like smoking and being overweight) you may have, even levels over 100 mg/dl may increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
HDL is usually called the good cholesterol. HDL helps the body rid itself of the cholesterol deposits in the arteries. A high HDL level indicates that you probably have a low risk of heart attack. It has been recommended that men have an HDL of at least 40 mg/dl and women at least 50 mg/dl. The good news is that doing the things that lower your LDL tend to raise your HDL levels. And adding good fat to your diet helps to raise HDL. Some sources are fatty fish like tuna and salmon, olive and canola oil, and the oils found in nuts and soybeans. Some studies even suggest that a moderate amount of alcohol will raise your HDL.
The third major component of a typical cholesterol screening is triglycerides. Like LDL, triglycerides can contribute to a buildup of deposits in the arteries. And like LDL, they are raised by a diet high in saturated fats. It's recommended that triglyceride levels be less than 150 mg/dl.
It should probably be noted that a number of doctors believe that the ratio between HDL and LDL is even more important than the individual numbers. So anything we do to lower our LDL or raise our HDL has a positive effect on that ratio.
How Do you Lower My Cholesterol?
As we've seen, there are a number of factors that contribute to your cholesterol and overall heart health. Some of them, like genetics and age, we have no control over. But others we do. When it comes down to it, there are three main things we can do to lower cholesterol. One is medication, and that is something to take up with your doctor. Another is exercise. Studies have shown that regular exercise can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Cardiologists recommend 30 minutes of walking a day as a minimum. It isn't all that difficult, but it does take a commitment.
The final factor is diet. There are a couple of things we can do from a dietary standpoint that will help. The first thing, which goes hand in hand with exercise, is to maintain your proper body weight. Being overweight is a known risk factor for heart disease.
The second, as mentioned earlier, is to limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet. The good news is that nutrition labels are now required to list the amount of saturated fat, so it's fairly easy to keep track of. But saturated fat isn't the only bad fat. There are also trans fatty acids, or trans fats, which are produced by hydrogenating liquid fat to make it solid at room temperature, like in making margarine. Trans fats are now also listed on the nutrition labels of packaged foods, making them easier to track. If trans fats are not given in the nutritional information, such as in a recipe, you can easily calculate them by taking the total fat and subtracting the saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat that are listed. In general, any solid fat is bad fat. Also bad are tropical oils like coconut and palm oil. One rule of thumb is that that you should consume no more than 10 percent of your calories per day from saturated fats and trans fats. Since each gram of fat contains about 100 calories, that makes the calculation fairly easy. If you are eating 2,000 calories a day (the number used as a reference on nutrition labels), then 200 of those calories, at the most, should come from saturated fats and trans fat. That would be 20 grams of bad fats per day maximum.
There are also positive diet changes that you can make. Let's take a quick look at some of them here.
Olive and Canola Oils
While we want to limit the amount of fats in our diet to help us maintain our ideal weight, oils like olive and canola can actually help lower cholesterol. They contain polyunsaturated fat, which is the most healthful kind.
The oils in fish contain a compound called omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce blood vessel blockages and clots. Medical experts often recommend that you eat fish at least twice a week.
Soy protein, such as that found in tofu, soybeans, and soy-based dairy substitutes, contains compounds that encourage blood vessels to dilate effectively so they can supply the blood needed by the body. It also contains antioxidants, which have been shown to help lower the incidence of cancer and heart disease.
Like fish, nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids. They are high in calories, though, so you should eat them in moderation.
Oats and Other Whole Grains
Oats and whole grains contain a number of nutrients that are removed from refined grain products like white flour. Oats also contains water-soluble fiber, which has been proven in a number of studies to reduce LDL cholesterol levels without also lowering the HDL levels. Other foods containing significant soluble fiber include beans, barley, and wheat bran.
What Should you Be Eating?
Foods that tend to raise your cholesterol:
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
- Foods containing cholesterol
Foods that tend to lower your cholesterol:
- Healthy oils
- Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids
- Foods containing whole grains and soluble fiber
Saturated fats are a primary culprit in raising your cholesterol level. In general, saturated fats are fats that are solid at room temperature. There are several categories of saturated fats, and the amount of saturated fat is listed on the U.S. nutrition facts label on packaged foods. This means that you are in control of how much saturated fat you eat. A general recommendation from the American Heart Association and others is to limit yourself to no more than 20 grams of saturated fat a day.
Beef, pork, and lamb are often considered the worst in terms of saturated fat. It's true that they tend to have more than fish or poultry. But how much they have is very dependent on which cut you choose. Some high-fat cuts of beef may contain five times the amount of saturated fat as a lean cut.
While not containing as much saturated fat as red meat, poultry skin does have a significant amount. A chicken thigh with the skin has more than 2 grams additional saturated fat compared to the meat only. And this is a case where eliminating that fat is really easy—just don't eat the skin.
Dairy products are another area where making smart choices can significantly reduce the amount of saturated fat. Avoid using products made from whole milk or cream. Choose skim milk, reduced-fat cheeses, and fat-free versions of sour cream and cream cheese. Use fat-free evaporated milk in place of cream.
Some plant oils in this category also contain saturated fats. These include palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils, and cocoa butter. They are generally easy to avoid, but be aware that some commercial baked goods and processed foods may contain them.
Trans fats are also called trans-fatty acids. They are produced by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation. This makes the fat more solid and less likely to spoil. Although increased awareness of their health risks have started to reduce their use, trans fats are still a common ingredient in commercial baked goods and fried foods. Food manufacturers are required to list trans fat content on nutrition labels. Amounts less than 0.5 grams per serving can be listed as 0 grams trans fat on the food label.
Margarine and Other Hydrogenated Oils
Avoid margarine and solid shortening containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Many use margarine where the texture of the food requires solid fat, but in general use liquid or soft margarines whenever possible. Many now use butter spray bottles, such as you Can't Believe It's Not Butter Original Buttery Spray, almost exclusively for "buttering" bread and vegetables.
Commercial Baked Goods and Fried Foods
Read ingredient labels and be aware that hydrogenated oils are a common ingredient in commercial baked goods. Even though awareness has increased and many restaurants now fry in oils without trans fats, make sure that you know what you are eating.
Foods Containing Cholesterol
Your body makes all of the cholesterol it needs, but you also get cholesterol from animal products, such as meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. While some experts now believe that the amount of cholesterol you eat is less a factor in raised cholesterol levels than was once thought, they still recommend that adults limit their cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day.
An egg yolk contains 214 mg of cholesterol, more than two-thirds of the daily maximum recommendation. The good news is that, other than deviled eggs and eggs fried over-easy, I've not found anywhere that you can't use the egg substitute made primarily from egg whites instead of whole eggs. I've even made egg salad by microwaving some, chopping it up, and adding mayonnaise and mustard.
Beef liver contains over 300 mg of cholesterol per serving; other kinds of liver and organ meats contain similar amounts. you admit you was one of those people who liked liver, but you don't eat it any more.
Shrimp contains over 130 mg of cholesterol per 3-ounce serving. Other shellfish also tends to be higher than meats and fish. you love shellfish, but we now only have it about once a month.
When choosing fats, the best choices are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats have been shown to lower your risk of heart disease by reducing the total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in your blood.
Monounsaturated fats are the healthiest kind. Replace other fats in your diet with them as often as possible. They are usually liquid at room temperature and begin to solidify when refrigerated. Examples are olive, canola, and peanut oils, and the fat found in avocados.
While not having quite the benefits of monounsaturated oils, polyunsaturated oils are still a much better choice than saturated fats and trans fats. They are usually liquid at both room temperature and in the refrigerator and tend to become rancid if stored too long unrefrigerated. Examples are safflower, sesame, soy, corn, and sunflower-seed oils, and the oils in nuts and seeds.
Foods Containing Omega-3 Fatty Acids
One particular kind of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, may be especially good for your heart. Omega-3 fatty acids appear to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease.
Recent dietary recommendations usually call for one or two servings of fish a week. Fortunately, fish lends itself to many kinds of recipes - like tuna steaks.
Nuts can be added to many foods to give a little extra boost of omega-3s. While they don't contain as much as fish, they are still a healthy addition. Consider using them as salad toppings rather than bacon bits, stir them into baked goods, or add them to your breakfast cereal.
Flaxseed and Soybeans
Flaxseed contains omega-3 fatty acids, but not the same levels as fish and nuts. We have added more soy to our diet, though, finding not only that tofu is good stir-fried, but also that it works great as a substitute for cheese in things like lasagna and enchiladas.
Foods Containing Whole Grains and Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber has been shown to lower total cholesterol and LDL without affecting the good cholesterol (HDL).
Oats have certainly gotten the most notice for their cholesterol-fighting abilities. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was convinced enough to allow medical claims of cholesterol reduction on packages of oatmeal and oat bran. You can easily add oat bran to many foods, such as breading mixes for meat, as well as the more common baked goods. I've included a number of recipes here that include oat bran. The manufacturers of oatmeal and oat bran also provide lots of information on how to include more of their products in your diet.
Beans and Barley
Dried beans and peas contain a significant amount of soluble fiber. So do grains like barley. These products can also help you cut back on saturated fats by being the basis of meals containing little or no meat. Often they are used in soups and stews, and You'll find a variety of recipes here that include them.
Experts knew that whole grains are healthier than refined grains long before the benefits of soluble fiber were understood. In many cases, it's an easy switch to choose whole-grain products like bread, rice, and pasta rather than their refined counterparts. The great news is that some people find they also taste better.
Fruits and Vegetables
Some fruits and vegetables contain enough soluble fiber to provide benefits. The most common are apples, strawberries, oranges, bananas, carrots, corn, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes.
How Can We Make Our Diets Healthier?
So what did you really do to make your diet healthier than the way you used to eat? In general, here are the guidelines you follow:
- Reduce saturated fats as much as possible by making healthy ingredient choices. Limit the number of servings of red meat each week, and choose lean cuts when it is on the menu. Choose fat-free or reduced-fat dairy products whenever available. Avoiding using tropical oils that contain saturated fat.
- Avoid using trans fats as much as possible. Use olive oil for cooking and canola oil for baking in place of other fats.
- Reduce your total fat intake. While some fats are healthier than others and do provide benefits, it is still recommended that less than 10 percent of your total calories come from fat. Reduce consumption of fried foods and high-fat baked goods. Replace some or all of the fat in baked goods with fruit.
- Avoid whole eggs. Use egg substitute in place of whole eggs wherever possible.
- Reduce consumption of other foods with high cholesterol levels, particularly organ meats and shellfish.
- Increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Eat more fish. Adds nuts to baked goods and salads for an extra omega-3 boost.
- Add more whole grains to your diet. Eat whole-grain breads and other baked goods. Replace white rice with brown. Choose whole-grain pastas over regular.
- Increase the amount of other soluble fiber in your diet. Eat more oat bran, beans, and barley.
When you started looking at creating low cholesterol recipes, going back to using salt wasn't even something you considered.
Most Americans get far more than the 2,400 mg of sodium a day recommended for a healthy adult. This happens without our even thinking about it. In creating these recipes, you was not as strict about the amount of sodium as you usually am. you didn't plan on people buying special sodium-free baking powder that is difficult to find except online. you didn't eliminate most cheeses except Swiss. But you also didn't add any salt. you think if you try the recipes, You'll find that they taste good without it. If you are tempted to add some salt because you think it's needed, first check with your cardiologist or other doctor first. you believe that most of them will agree that in the interest of total heart healthiness, you are better off without the salt.
Sauces, Condiments, Mixes, and Spice Blends
When you are trying to reduce the amount of fat in your diet, particularly saturated fat, sauces and condiments can be a problem. White sauce? Let's see, that contains 2 tablespoons (28 g) of butter per cup (235 ml) of sauce, right? There are a couple of low fat baking mixes to use in place of commercial mixes and some condiments that are heart-healthier than anything you can find in the store. And, finally, there are a few spice blends for grilling. While these aren't exactly cholesterol-reducing themselves, perhaps they'll encourage you to try some of the grilling and smoking recipes. These methods of cooking are good for reducing the amount of fat in your final dish, since it's allowed to drip away during the cooking process.