The Cholesterol Diet

Everywhere we turn, warnings about cholesterol abound. There's even a "bad" cholesterol and a "good" cholesterol. Many people are told by their doctor to lower their cholesterol, but what does that really mean? Here are some elements of a "bad" cholesterol lowering diet. Just to be clear, the cholesterol is bad, not the diet.

When you are told to watch your cholesterol, that usually means that you have high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in relation to HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and triglycerides. Our LDL cholesterol (yes, the "bad" guy in this drama) should be below 100 mg/dL. Let's just remember the 100 and not worry about the unit of measure, that will just make us crazy. Who has seen a deciliter, anyway? When the doctor starts talking about cholesterol, this LDL number is at least 160 mg/dL.

The "good" or DHL cholesterol should be over 40 mg/dL, but the doctor will start those comments if it falls below that level. Triglycerides (the main form of fat storage in our body) should be below 150 mg/dL with the nagging starting at around 200 mg/dL.

Whew, we got the statistics out of the way. But why do we care about all these numbers? Triglycerides are responsible for hardening of the blood vessels. This is a key trigger for strokes and heart attacks. The LDL cholesterol builds up on our artery walls as little plaques, or disks. When these accumulate, the artery becomes narrow and could even completely block the flow of blood. Not good for whatever body part is being nourished by that artery! The HDL cholesterol fights this build-up and flushes the plaques back into the blood stream, where they can be gobbled up by the liver.

Given that we want to lower our bad cholesterol, what should we eat? The one consistent answer that all doctors give is, "eat oatmeal!" Oatmeal has a lot of soluble fiber that reduces your LDL levels. Simply eating oatmeal for breakfast can make a real difference in your cholesterol levels. Fruits, oats, legumes and barley also contain soluble fiber.

Many nuts (and their oils) are good for cholesterol control. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts and pistachios reduce your cholesterol. Don't overdo it, though. These amazing snacks are also high in calories, so just a quarter cup is enough.

Olives, olive oil and avocado are good for the cholesterol diet, too. Olive oil is a great substitute for butter and avoids a mountain of fat. Avocados are rich in HDL cholesterol, ready to do battle with those evil plaques.

A few simple changes can dramatically improve your cholesterol scores. Olive oil or canola oil instead of butter or Crisco in the fry pan can really help. So can using an egg substitute instead of whole eggs. Have a lot of fresh fruit on hand, the nutrition is great and the soluble fiber will flush those LDLs away. Eat fish (especially trout, tuna, salmon, halibut and mackerel) twice a week. The Omega-3 fatty acids are wonderful! If you are craving beef, select the cuts that are the most lean, like sirloin, chuck or round. And remember to trim off the outer fat layer before you cook. And check out the labels on processed meat. The saturated fat content can be stunning.

Hearing "lower your cholesterol" from your doctor is does not mean eating nothing but rice cakes for the rest of your life. Adopting these simple changes can make a huge difference in your cholesterol numbers while you still get to enjoy great meals!

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