High Cholesterol Diet Support: Foods for a Healthy Heart
How to reduce high cholesterol levels
Confused about what to eat to reduce high cholesterol levels and improve your heart health?
February is heart health month and a great time to think about your choices.
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Read on for 5 tips to help you figure out the best way to eat for your cardiovascular health.
1. Reduce your calorie intake if you are overweight
There are many lifestyle factors and nutrition changes you could make to improve your heart health but one of the most important factors in improving your blood cholesterol levels is losing weight if you are carrying extra pounds. Even losing 10 pounds if you are overweight can make a difference. While you may still have more than 10 pounds to lose, even small changes can help.
While there are many factors outside of nutrition and exercise such as genetics, sleep issues and more that cause your weight to be higher, the key nutrition consideration is your calorie intake. Reducing your calories overall by choosing smaller portions sizes of calorie dense foods is a step in the right direction.
Rather than an extreme makeover start by simply reducing the quantity of what you are eating such as having a slightly smaller bowl of cereal, slightly smaller serving of meat or smaller bowl of ice cream. Little changes done each day add up to be big over the long term.
2. The type of fat in your diet is more significant than the amount
Eating healthy levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, lowers the risk of heart disease and improves blood cholesterol levels more than those who consume low- fat diets.
Nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and other vegetable oils that are liquid at room temperature are heart-healthy fats.
Fatty fish such as salmon contain the best sources of omega-3 fat. Aim to consume fish two to three times per week. If you don’t eat enough fish, consider taking a fish oil omega-3 supplement and/or eat hemp seeds, ground flax seeds, canola oil or omega-3 eggs.
3. Boost your soluble fibre intake
You might have heard that oatmeal and bran are good for digestion, but high-fibre foods, particularly those rich in soluble fibre such as bran cereals with psyllium, reduce cholesterol.
Consume oats, bran cereals and/or beans/legumes every day. Eat at least three pieces of fruit daily and have good portions of a variety of veggies more than once a day. Consider a psyllium fibre supplement to top up your intake each day.
4. Reduce trans-fat and be mindful of saturated fat
as a key strategy to reduce the risk of heart disease in the Canadian population. The ban is being phased in and as of September 2020 all artificially produced trans fats will be removed from our food supply.
Trans fats raise LDL (lousy or “bad” cholesterol) levels in our blood and lower HDL (happy or “good” cholesterol levels in our blood). Trans fats are found primarily in packaged and processed foods such as deep fried items, commercial baked goods, pastries, hydrogenated margarine and hydrogenated shortening. If you see “partially hydrogenated oil” on a menu this means the food will contain some trans fats.
Traditionally it was thought that saturated fat had a negative impact on heart health but this information is changing. Saturated fats are found in heavily marbled meats, the skin on poultry, butter, margarine, tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter), and high fat-dairy foods such as cheese.
Newer research has found that saturated fats may or may not increase the ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol in the body, which harms heart health. Part of the reason that there may be some conflicting results depends on which foods are being replaced for saturated fat. Monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, nuts and avocado) as well as omega-3 fats (found in fish) when replaced for saturated fat is beneficial for heart health.
Health depends on the quality of your whole diet, not just the type of fat or any other single nutrient. Rather than focusing on counting grams of fat, focus first on eating wholesome foods your grandmother would recognize that contain simple ingredients.
5. When looking at a food label, investigate trans-fat and saturated fat rather than dietary cholesterol
There is a common myth that if you have high blood cholesterol levels you should avoid foods high in cholesterol such as shrimp or eggs. There is no Canadian recommendation to eat less dietary cholesterol, nor does the Dietary Reference Intakes report by the Institute of Medicine specify a target level for dietary cholesterol.
Most people with or without high cholesterol levels can have an egg a day without influencing their blood cholesterol levels. Talk to your Registered Dietitian about what is right for you. Remember it is far more significant to reduce trans fats and saturated fats in your diet than focus on the dietary cholesterol levels in food.
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