The Basics of a Cholesterol-Friendly Diet

Following a Well-Balanced Diet Is Essential for Heart Health

Colorful salad
Harald Walker/Stocksy United

One of the first things you hear after learning you have high cholesterol or triglycerides is that you should follow a lipid-lowering diet. What does that mean and how can you change what you eat to help lower your cholesterol?

There are many different types of low-cholesterol diets out there. These include the TLC Diet, My Plate, and the Mediterranean diet, but there really isn't a specific guideline to follow.

Yet, each of these is designed for the same purpose: keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in a healthy range.

All a lipid-lowering diet really requires you to do is eat a variety of healthy foods that are low in saturated fat and calories and high in nutrients. It isn't too hard to stick to, either. You can, of course, include more freshly prepared meals in your diet. There is also a multitude of low-fat and more natural packaged foods available for quick meals.

Healthy choices and a little knowledge can go a long way to keeping your heart healthy. These can easily fit into your lifestyle and leave you feeling as satisfied as any high-fat foods. The difference is that you'll probably feel a whole lot better.

Stock Up on Fruits and Vegetables

The cornerstone of any healthy diet is to include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your meals. Not only are these nutrient-packed foods low in calories and saturated fat, they are also high in fiber and phytosterols.

These nutrients have been shown in studies to slightly lower your LDL cholesterol levels.

There are virtually no foods in this category that you need to avoid when following a lipid-lowering diet. According to current dietary guidelines, fruits and veggies should take up half of your meal plate. Try to include many in your cart on a shopping trip because it's easier to remember to eat them if they're already in your kitchen.

Love Your Legumes

Chickpeas, lentils, and beans are also an excellent food to put on your plate for a lipid-lowering diet. These foods are not only high in vitamins and minerals, they are also high in cholesterol-lowering fiber. These ingredients — coupled with their high protein content — can help you feel fuller after a meal and reduce the chance of overeating.

Legumes are very versatile and can be included in a variety of foods. This includes everything from a quick salad to an elaborate meal.

Get Your Nuts

Nuts are often underrated. They may be small, but they are packed full of nutrients, including heart-healthy fiber and phytosterols. Many nuts are high in unsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids – a type of unsaturated fatty acid that can keep your lipid levels healthy.

You only need a handful of your favorite nuts a day to see their health benefits on your cholesterol and triglycerides. Since nuts are also calorically dense, you shouldn’t go overboard as this may cause weight gain.

The Right Bread and Grains Are Okay

Contrary to popular belief, it is okay to include grains in your diet. You just have to watch what type of grain you're eating. In some cases, foods like bread can be high in refined carbohydrates.

You can switch out foods containing white flour for whole grain options. This includes things like pasta as well as bread items. Whole grain and whole wheat foods contain more fiber than other types of grains made with refined sugar or white flour. This can help keep your LDL cholesterol levels healthy.

Moderate Your Dairy

The dairy aisle is another area of the grocery store that you do not have to avoid when following a lipid-lowering diet. Full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fat, which is often frowned upon in a lipid-lowering diet. However, there are a couple of studies that suggest that dairy products may have a neutral or slightly beneficial impact on your heart health.

Some dairy products, such as the probiotics found in yogurt, have also been shown to have a positive impact on your lipid levels. These foods can be higher in calories, so try not to go overboard. There are also low-fat varieties of your favorite milk and cheese products available so you don't feel deprived of those.

Opt for Lean Meats

When looking for meat to include in your healthy diet, lean meats such as chicken, fish, or turkey, can help cut fat and calories from your meals. Red meat — including beef, goat, and pork — is higher in saturated fat, which can add calories to your meal.

If you find a fatty piece of meat on your plate, you can trim it off and instantly reduce the amount of fat you consume. However, processed meats like bologna and sausage should be limited. Some studies have shown that regularly consuming these foods could raise your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

This Is Just the Beginning

There are many other heart-healthy foods that you can put in your shopping cart, too. When in doubt, check the nutrition label on the food packaging. A cholesterol-friendly food should be low in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates and high in nutrients such as vitamins, fiber, and protein.

Sources:

de Oliveira Otto MC, Mozaffarian D, Kromhout D, et al. Dietary Intake of Saturated Fat by Food Source and Incident Cardiovascular Disease: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2012;96:397-404.

Rolfes SR, Whitney E. Understanding Nutrition. 14th ed. Independence, KY: Wadsworth Publishing; 2015.

United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020.https://www.choosemyplate.gov/dietary-guidelines

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