Low Cholesterol Diet Q & A

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

Q: My GP has told me I have a high cholesterol level. Before putting me on drugs, he wants to see if losing weight and changing my diet will help lower it. What dietary changes should I make?

A Losing weight if you need to, is one of the most important things you can do to lower your cholesterol levels so use Weight Loss Resources to help shift those pounds. It’s also important to look closely at your fat intake. Overall, you should reduce on the total amount of fat you eat.

To lose weight and keep your heart healthy, Weight Loss Resources recommends that no more than 30 percent of your calories come from fat. This means if you’re allowed 1,250 calories a day, you should have no more than 42g of fat. (Your Nutrition Profile in the WLR food diary will show you the maximum amount of fat you should have each day.)

It’s also important to make sure you’re eating the right types of fat. There are three main types of fat in food:

  • saturates
  • monounsaturates
  • polyunsaturates

Most foods contain a mixture of these, but are generally classified according to the type of fat found in the largest amount.

Foods high in saturates such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, butter, lard, cream, cheese and many processed and takeaway foods, increase blood cholesterol so it’s important to eat fewer of them.

In contrast, polyunsaturates and monounsaturates can help lower cholesterol, so it’s sensible to swap foods high in saturates for more foods rich in unsaturates.

Good sources of polyunsaturates include pure vegetable oils and spreads such as sunflower, corn, grapeseed and soya oils and margarines and some vegetables, while good sources of monounsaturates include olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds.

It might sound complicated but in practice it’s simple – generally you should avoid frying if you can but if you must, use a small amount of olive oil, for example, rather than butter!

It’s also important to lower your intake of trans fats as these are thought to act like saturates and increase cholesterol. They are found mainly in pre-packaged and takeaway foods and are formed as a side effect of food processing.

Unfortunately, most products don’t provide details about the trans fat content – instead you need to look at the ingredients list. If a food contains hydrogenated fat or oil, it will almost certainly contain trans fats and so you should limit the amount you eat.

But it’s not just your fat intake you need to concentrate on.

There’s good evidence that a type of fibre called soluble fibre can help to lower cholesterol. This type of fibre is found in oats, barley, pulses and some fruits. The good news is, these foods are all low in fat making them great choices if you’re also trying to lose weight.

Meanwhile, adding soya to your diet may also help to reduce cholesterol. Research shows that including 25g of soya protein each day as part of a diet low in saturates can significantly lower both total and LDL cholesterol. You can get this amount of soya protein by drinking around three glasses of soya milk a day, but make sure you choose unsweetened varieties. There are also many soya desserts, yoghurt alternatives and creams available but always check out their calorie contents first as they may be higher in calories than you’d expect.

Take a look at my healthy eating for your heart tips for some practical ideas.

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