Dealing with high cholesterol often means adjusting lifelong food preparation methods and eating habits. Lowering cholesterol levels remains key in fighting the risk of heart disease. There’s lots of confusing information about good and bad cholesterol, and how best to fight it. Your best allies in this nutrition challenge are the dietitians and nutritionists at Forest Hills Wellness, in Forest Hills, New York. The clinic focuses on meal plans low in sodium and saturated fat and high in dietary fiber.
High Cholesterol Q&Aby Dara Bergen, MPH, RD, CDN
Why is high cholesterol a bad thing?
High cholesterol is a leading contributor to heart disease. People with high levels of low-density lipoprotein have twice the risk of developing heart disease when compared to those at normal levels. As many as 71 million American adults have high LDL levels, and less than half of them get treatment. High cholesterol, on its own, causes no symptoms, so without regular testing, a person has no way of knowing where their LDL levels are. Left unchecked, LDL cholesterol builds up on the walls of blood vessels in your body, restricting blood flow and contributing to heart attacks and strokes.
What factors influence high cholesterol?
High cholesterol develops from a combination of factors. Some can be controlled while others cannot. Most saturated fats in a person’s diet – those that are usually solid, such as butter and in some meats – raise LDL levels in the body. Trans fats, often used in store-bought cakes and doughnuts, come from vegetable oils with hydrogen added to harden a product. This not only raises LDL levels, it reduces high-density lipoproteins, or HDL, the “good” cholesterol component. A person’s weight and physical activity level also contribute to higher levels of LDL, so discretionary weight loss and increased activity usually result in lower cholesterol levels. Age, gender, and heredity are contributing factors to high cholesterol that a person can’t control.
What changes to my diet can I expect?
The dietitians at Forest Hills Wellness build nutrition plans specifically for each client, so particular details may change. In general, a diet that’s effective in lowering high cholesterol includes:
- Whole-grain, high-fiber foods
- Saturated fats contributing less than 7% of daily calories
- Cholesterol under 300 milligrams a day
- Reduced reliance on processed food with high sugar and sodium content
- Adding foods that lower LDL cholesterol, such as oats, barley, beans, legumes, and nuts