September is National Cholesterol Education month, a topic that Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating is passionate about! Our freshly prepared meal program meets American Heart Association recommendations for cholesterol-lowering diets. It has fewer than 200 milligrams of cholesterol, with less than 25 percent of calories from total fat and less than 7 percent of calories from saturated fat.
Diet and exercise are key ways to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, or reduce high cholesterol levels. This “natural approach” is more effective and healthier than taking medications for high cholesterol levels as a first line of defense.
Losing weight, if you are overweight, should be a top priority if you have high cholesterol. Carrying even a few extra pounds contributes to high cholesterol. It’s all about overall calorie intake, so small changes add up. If you can switch to water instead of sugary drinks, snack on lower calorie foods, and leave a little on your plate each dinner, you can easily cut out about 500 calories per day, which is equivalent to losing 1 pound of weight per week!
Increase Activity Level
Also look for ways to incorporate more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking farther from your office. Take walks during breaks at work. Try to increase standing activities, such as cooking or doing yard work instead of passive activities such as watching TV or sitting online.
Limit Saturated and Trans Fats
These types of fats negatively contribute to high blood cholesterol levels. Sources of saturated fats include high-fat cuts of meat (beef, lamb, pork), chicken with the skin, whole-fat dairy products (milk and cream), butter, cheese, ice cream, palm and coconut oil and lard.
Trans fats also contribute significantly to heart disease; however, we find them less in packaged items today than we did 10 to 20 years ago. Still, sources of trans fat include commercially-baked goods (pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough), packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips), stick margarine, vegetable shortening, fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish) and candy bars.
Include Foods that Improve Cholesterol Levels
Heart healthy foods protect the heart in various ways. These foods offer protection by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, reducing blood pressure, limiting inflammation of the arteries, reducing risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and by helping with weight management.
Some of the Best Foods to Help Improve Cholesterol Levels:
Oatmeal -- Oatmeal is full of fiber, omega-3 fats, folate, and potassium making it heart healthy essential. The soluble fiber in oatmeal helps to clear LDL (or bad) cholesterol by binding to it and eliminating it from the body – ensuring clear arteries for the healthiest heart.
Nuts -- Nuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids and loaded with mono- and polyunsaturated fat too. Plus, nuts are good source of both protein and fat, ensuring satiety when hunger strikes.
Berries -- All berries are chock full of anti-inflammatory properties, which will reduce your risk of both heart disease and cancer.
Soy -- This lean, plant based complete protein makes it an ideal daily food choice for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Luckily, it comes in many different forms to ensure variety in the diet. Look for natural sources of soy, like edamame, tempeh, or tofu.
Choose Healthier Lifestyle
Besides diet and exercise, it is important to quit smoking if you are a smoker, and to reduce alcohol intake if you consume more than 1 alcoholic beverages a day if you are woman, and more than 2 alcoholic beverages a day if you are a man. Both activities can raise cholesterol levels.
While we can look at foods and classify them as “good” or “bad” for our hearts, it is important to understand that overall dietary pattern is more important. We must look at diet as a whole, rather than just one food or nutrient. And we should encourage more wholesome, less altered foods within a certain calorie range to help with cholesterol levels, overall health and weight management.