I know from first-hand experience with my patients that diet can play a major role in lowering cholesterol. Statins can be life-savers, but like all medications, they come with side effects. That doesn’t mean they are bad, but you may want to weigh the pros and cons and do all you can to avoid needing medication.
If you can achieve cholesterol goals with diet, exercise, all the better! The guidelines below are the basics of an anti-inflammatory diet which helps reduce inflammation in the body and lowers the risk of plaque formation. Stick with it and you’ll see changes in 4-6 weeks.
Bonus: Eating this way will result in weight loss without counting calories or fat grams.
Here are four basic principles of a heart healthy diet:
- Balance your fats and eliminate trans fats. Choose healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3’s, reduce saturated fats.Balance these:
Unsaturated fats promote heart health when they replace saturated fat in the diet. There are two types – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Monounsaturated fat sources: (key oils in Mediterranean Diet) olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocados, peanut butter, nuts, and seeds.
Polyunsaturated fat sources:
These come in two forms, omega 3 and omega-6. Both are necessary for good health. But most Americans consume too much omega-6 and too little omega-3, so while both are cardio-protective, aim for a balance of more omega-3 and less omega-6.
Omega-3 fatty acid sources: fish, fish oil, ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, soy products, nuts, dark green leafy vegetables and omega-3 enhanced eggs
Omega-6 fatty acid sources: soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower, cottonseed, sesame as well as margarine, traditional eggs and baked goods.
Saturated fats – among the most potent fats to increase blood cholesterol levels…limit meat, milk, cheese, ice cream, butter, lard, shortening, hydrogenated vegetable fat, palm oil, coconut oil, and beef fat.
Trans fats are the most dangerous of all fats. They raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and lower HDL (good) cholesterol and are the most efficient at promoting plaque that causes heart attacks and strokes.
The man-made trans fats include partially “hydrogenated” oils (check food labels), – chips, crackers, vegetable shortening, commercially prepared baked goods, French fries, fried chicken, doughnuts, pastries, pie crusts, biscuits, pizza dough, most stick margarine, fast foods.
- Choose whole foods. The less processed, the more fiber, vitamins and minerals. — Fruit and vegetables (here’s how: each time you eat, include a fruit or a vegetable. For example, berries with breakfast, and apple in the afternoon; salad for lunch, double vegetable side with dinner), wheat and whole-wheat products, corn bran, seeds and nuts, oat and oat bran, dried beans, lentils, peas, brown rice, barley, rye, flaxseed.
- Emphasize carbohydrates with a low glycemic load. Avoid foods that raise the blood sugar levels quickly. Maintaining a normal blood sugar level is cardio-protective. Glycemic load is a measurement of how quickly a food is converted into sugar in the body. The lower the load, the lower the blood sugar rise after a meal. Emphasize whole foods over processed foods and minimize your intake of cookies, cake, white bread, white rice, potatoes, chips and crackers. For a complete chart, check here: https://diabetes.ucsf.edu/sites/diabetes.ucsf.edu/files/PEDS%20Glycemic%20Index.pdf
- Limit your intake of high-fructose corn syrup. This man-made sugar is added to many processed foods but creates unique health problems. It can be found in many processed foods including soda and other soft drinks, breakfast cereals, canned fruits, jellies, flavored yogurts, baked goods, ketchup and other condiments. While sugar and honey should be kept to a minimum, high fructose corn syrup triggers a cascade of health problems all its own.