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High Cholesterol? Healthy Diet Facts

By Willow Jarosh, R.D., and Stephanie Clarke, R.D.

Q: I just found out that I have high cholesterol. What’s the first thing I should do regarding my diet?

A: Finding out that you have high cholesterol is an eye-opening and alarming event for many people. But making dietary and lifestyle changes can have an impact on bringing your cholesterol down. One of the first things you should do is look at your current diet. Keep a food journal, writing down everything you eat and drink (including details like what goes in your coffee, what you put on toast, etc.) for at least five to seven days. This will give you a good picture of what you’re eating and not eating. In the meantime, here are the main dietary changes you can make to help your cholesterol:

1. Watch saturated fats. No doubt you’ve heard that there are good fats and not-so-good fats. Too much saturated fat can raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol, the kind that can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke if it gets too high. Opt for low-fat dairy products like reduced-fat cheese, and skim or 1% milk; if you really miss the creaminess, give Smart Balance™ Fat-Free Milk a shot—it eliminates the saturated fat without sacrificing taste. And go for lean meats like skinless chicken, fish, and lean turkey and beef. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your total daily saturated fat intake to no more than 7% to 9% if you have high cholesterol. That’s about 15 to 20 grams per day if you’re following a 2,000 calorie diet. For more on different fats, read “Good Fat vs. Bad Fats.”

2. Eat more monos. Monounsaturated fats, which are found in foods like olive and canola oil, avocados, nuts and nut butters, can help lower LDLs. Try adding mashed avocado to a turkey sandwich; add nuts to salads; and use oil-based vinaigrette dressing. You can also find them in many Smart Balance® products, including buttery spreads, peanut butter, cooking oil, and even mayo.

3. Eliminate trans fats. These are the worst kind of fats because they raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol. Watch out for trans fats in fried foods, processed baked goods like cookies, muffins, granola bars, and crackers. Read the Nutrition Facts label and look for zero grams of trans fat. But don’t stop there: Also check the ingredients to make sure there’s no “partially hydrogenated oils” listed. This is code for trans fats; manufacturers are allowed to list no trans fats on the label if there are fewer than .5 grams per serving. For more on these bad-news fats, check out this post.

4. Add foods high in soluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps bind to the building blocks of cholesterol and can prevent it from being formed in the body. This type of fiber is found in plant foods and is particularly plentiful in legumes like beans (black, kidney, lentils, white, etc.); fruits, especially citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, apples, pears, and prunes; vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts; and cereal grains like oats and barley. Incorporate one or more of these foods into your diet daily. For example, start the day with a bowl of oatmeal with chopped apples and walnuts; add black beans to a grilled chicken salad or eat bean-based soups; and incorporate at least 2 servings of vegetables into every dinner.

5. Include plant sterol and stanols: Clinical studies have shown 1,300mg of plant sterol esters per day help reduce cholesterol when consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Smart Balance® HeartRight™ Buttery Spread contains 1,700mg of plant sterol esters per serving. Further, foods containing at least 400mg per serving of plant sterols eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 800mg, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of Smart Balance™ HeartRight™ Fat Free Milk and Omega-3s & Naturally Sourced Plant Sterols supplies 400mg of plant sterols.

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