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What to eat for High Cholesterol Print

Answers to the most asked questions on nutrition for heart health

It can be very confusing to sift through all the information on heart healthy eating and determine the best foods to eat to lower your blood cholesterol levels. Here is the scoop on some of the latest debates on nutrition for heart health and what to do if you have elevated blood cholesterol levels. Dietitian Andrea Holwegner on Global Calgary

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  1. Should I follow a vegan or vegetarian diet?

You can find a research study that will support just about anything you want to promote or discount. There is research to support that a well-planned vegan or vegetarian eating plan is healthy for your heart. There is also research to support that consuming animal foods such as dairy, meat, poultry, and seafood (such as what is included in the Mediterranean diet) can also be included in a heart healthy eating plan.

The best heart healthy eating plan is the one you will actually follow. You don’t need a diet, you need a healthy lifestyle you can sustain for life. Follow a plan that speaks to your fooplate of salad and dressingd personality and the types of foods that you enjoy.

  1. What is the best diet to follow for my heart?

Your health and heart health depend on your whole diet, not just the type of fat you eat or any other single nutrient. The key is taking a big picture look at scientific evidence and using some common-sense advice from what your grandparents likely have always known.

Eat plenty of whole foods that you can recognize as food (without a complicated label with long lists of ingredients). Emphasize plant based foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. If you wish to consume animal foods go with those that are minimally processed with lower levels of sodium and sugar.

Also note that trans fats are a particularly negative class of fat found in packaged and processed foods such as deep fried items, commercial baked goods and pastries. Read food labels and be sure to limit foods that contain hydrogenated vegetable oil and shortening.

However, remember you don’t need to be extreme – there is always room for your favorite soulful foods such as sweets and savoury foods that are chosen for taste and enjoyment. You can eat anything, just not everything – heart healthy living is all about being intentional about your overall choices.

  1. What is the #1 most important change to make to reduce high cholesterol?

The single most effective nutrition strategy to lower your blood cholesterol levels (and blood pressure) is to lose weight if you are overweight. Even small changes in your weight can have a significant change on your blood cholesterol level. The best weight loss diet is going to be based on your food philosophy and which diet you can actually sustain.avocado

Working with an experienced Registered Dietitian that can work with you on a customized plan to help you determine what, when and how much to eat along with everyday meal ideas that work within the types of food you enjoy and take into account your cooking skill, if you eat out often and your family situation. In our Calgary dietitian practice we also find the vast majority of our clients also need ongoing support and strategies to help them with emotional eating, managing cravings and accountability.

  1. Are foods such as butter and cheese that are high in saturated fat bad for my heart?

The answer to this question is both yes and no.

Traditionally it was thought that saturated fat was harmful for heart health. 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.

Rather than asking if the butter or cheese you are eating is good or bad, the bigger question you should be asking is what foods do you put your butter on or what else are you eating with your cheese? Hint: most people need to eat more veggies and fruit so the focus likely needs to start there.

  1. Which is better butter or margarine?Butter, for heart health

How you answer this question depends on a few factors. Firstly from a taste preference most chefs and foodies would agree that nothing beats butter. Other butter advocates would say they prefer to consume something more natural. 

On the other hand vegetarians that do not consume animal foods may choose margarine instead because it is plant based. Since soft-tub non-hydrogenated margarine is lower in saturated fat than butter and is trans-fat free if you have high cholesterol you might choose this for a nutrition reason. Skip square cubes of margarine and tub hydrogenated margarines since these are high in trans fats.

At the end of the day whatever you choose be mindful of simply eating less of both.

  1. Which is better coconut oil or olive oil?

Coconut oil is all the rage lately but I don’t believe this is a fat you should be trying to increase in your diet. 

Coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature) contains a high level of saturated fats (more than butter).  One positive note is that some of the saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium fatty acid that may have a more neutral role on heart health and blood cholesterol levels. Lauric acid can raise both the good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels while other saturated fats can raise LDL levels with no effect on HDL levels. 

Also note that hydrogenated coconut oils would not be recommended since they contain trans fats. If you are consuming a coconut oil choose virgin coconut oil and eat this in moderation.

The health benefits of olive oil and other liquid plant oils trumps coconut oil. 

  1. Should I limit eggs and other foods high in dietary cholesterol?

Be aware that dietary cholesterol is different than the cholesterol found in your blood. Although foods such as eggs or shrimp are high in dietary cholesterol, foods high in cholesterol have little effect on the cholesterol in your blood. There is research to support an egg a day is fine for most people. Both shrimp and eggs are free of trans-fat and low in saturated fat and therefore have limited influence on the cholesterol levels in your blood. This is good news if you enjoy eggs for breakfast or grilled shrimp on the barbeque.

 

To find out how healthy your diet is visit Andrea’s website to download her free Personal Nutrition Scorecard at: www.healthstandnutrition.com/scorecard/ and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at @chocoholicRD.

Want to see more? Check out Andrea’s Facebook Live Video where she speaks about this topic!  www.facebook.com/chocoholicRD

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. Andrea and her team really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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