Nutritional Implications for Maintaining Healthy Cholesterol
The following are basic guidelines for maintaining healthy blood cholesterol levels:
Limit intake of saturated and trans-fats and cholesterol.
Saturated Fat: Sources of saturated fat are high-fat animal products, such as red meat, organ meats, whole milk, cheese, sour cream, and ice cream. Saturated fat is known to raise LDL cholesterol (i.e., "bad" cholesterol) and contribute to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
Trans Fat: Sources of trans fat are processed foods, like cookies, crackers, pastries, margarine, and shortening and also fried foods, such as French fries and doughnuts. Trans fat is produced by adding hydrogen atoms to liquid fats, making them solid at room temperature and therefore more shelf-stable. Studies have shown that trans fats not only raise LDL cholesterol, but also lower HDL cholesterol. Although trans fats are now listed on food labels, it is still very important to read the ingredients listed on foods, as amounts less than 0.5 grams per serving can legally still be printed as "zero" on the label. If "hydrogenated oil" or "partially hydrogenated oil" is listed in the ingredients, limit consumption of that particular food.
Increase intake of healthy fats.
Monounsaturated fats: The best sources of monounsaturated fat are olive oil, avocados, and nuts (especially almonds, cashews, and peanuts). Monounsaturated fats have been shown to raise HDL and lower LDL cholesterol.
Polyunsaturated fats: These fats have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. The main sources are safflower, corn, sunflower, and cottonseed oils.
Increase intake of dietary fiber.
Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber per day. Regular intake of soluble fiber helps to decrease LDL cholesterol. The best sources of soluble fiber are oats and oatmeal, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, and barley.
Include other 'functional foods.'
Functional foods are foods or dietary components that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. Functional foods that have been associated with lowering LDL cholesterol levels while raising HDL cholesterol levels include:
Omega 3 fatty acids: Omega 3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat and they play an especially important role in heart health. Research has shown that omega 3 fats decrease the risk of arrhythmias, which can lead to sudden cardiac death, decrease triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and reduce the buildup of plaque on artery walls. The best sources of omega 3 fats are salmon, trout, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and walnut oil.
Plant sterols (and stanols): Plant sterols and stanols are substances that occur naturally in small amounts in many foods, including grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Research has shown that plant sterols and stanols help to block the absorption of cholesterol.
Due to this cholesterol-lowering effect, plant sterols and stanols have been added to foods, such as margarines (such as Take Control and Benecol), juices, and cereals. It's important to note that the National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that people who have high cholesterol get 2 grams of stanols or sterols a day.
Everyone 20 years and older should have a blood cholesterol test done every 4-6 years if they are not considered at high risk for heart disease. For those with a diagnosis of high cholesterol or other cardiovascualr risk factors, testing should occur more frequently. It's important to note that, even with healthy lifestyle changes, many individuals must be prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications (statins) to help get their cholesterol numbers within the desirable ranges. Those taking prescription medications to control cholesterol levels may need to have their cholesterol tested at least twice a year to not only check cholesterol levels, but to also check liver function.