Cholesterol management does not have to mean taking cholesterol lowering drugs, drugs that often have serious side effects. Since one of the major factors that determines the level of cholesterol in our body is the foods we eat, it only makes sense to look to our diet as a method of lowering cholesterol levels. Understanding what a high cholesterol level means and what the different cholesterol numbers stand for, is an important first step in cholesterol management. By limiting certain fatty foods in the diet and by adding other healthier foods to the menu, it is possible to bring those cholesterol numbers down by as much as 30%, though 10 to 20% is a more realistic goal.
The first thing to remember is that sources of cholesterol are all animal based foods, there are no plants that produce cholesterol though there are plant oils that can cause the body to produce more. Saturated fats are the main dietary sources of cholesterol with foods such as red meats, eggs, dairy foods, and certain plant oils (palm and coconut) being the highest in saturated fats. A diet that cuts back on these fatty foods will have the added benefit of helping with weight loss. Losing weight has been shown to help lower cholesterol numbers and it will reduce stress on the heart. The average adult should lower their daily intake of cholesterol to 300mg or less. Some common foods and the milligram's of cholesterol they contain are: 1 large egg - 210, 1 oz. of beef liver - 86, 1 cup of ice cream - 56, one cup whole milk - 34, 1 oz. lean chuck - 26, 1 oz. dark meat chicken - 26, 1 oz. white meat chicken - 22, 1 oz. lean pork chop - 28, 1 oz. veal cuttlet - 28, 1 oz. fish, sole - 27, 1 oz. turkey, white - 22, 1 tablesp. butter - 31, 1 oz. chedder cheeze - 28, and 1 oz water packed tuna - 11. It is easy to see how cholesterol numbers can add up quickly especially if your day starts with an egg, bacon, and sausage, and then for lunch you have a quarter lb. (4 oz.) hamburger with supper still to go.
Besides cutting back on foods that contain cholesterol, it is also important to watch the intake of plant oils that are relatively high in saturated fats. Fried foods are best eaten in moderation. The common edible plant oils and the percentage of saturated fat found in each are as follows: Palm oil - 80, Coconut - 87, Hydrogenated Vegetable - 22-33, Cottonseed - 26, Hard margarines - 17-25, Margarine tub - 15-23, Margarine soft - 10-17, Sesame - 18, Peanut - 17, Olive - 14, Soybean - 14, Corn - 13, Sunflower - 10, Canola - 6, and Safflower - 6. In comparison butter is some 66% saturated fat and beef tallow or fat is some 56% saturated fat. It is best to use plant oils, which can also be found in many sauces and condiments, in moderation and to try to use the ones that are lowest in saturated fats such as Olive, Canola, and Safflower. These oils are also higher in polyunsaturated fats which are beneficial for the circulatory system.
The next thing to consider in the way of dietary habits for cholesterol management are the foods that will help to remove cholesterol from the body. Green leafy vegetables, fiber rich fruits such as apples and whole grains such as oats and barley can all help to flush cholesterol out of the body. By replacing high fatty foods with high fiber foods it is possible to change one's diet without feeling hungery all the time. Substituting a high fat breakfast for one that contains a bowl of high fiber cereal, fresh fruits such as bananas, apples, or strawberries, and low fat milk can help to lower the level of cholesterol in the diet. Soluble fiber like that found in oat bran, oatmeal, prunes, apples, pears, barley, and kidney beans, is good for removing cholesterol from the body. Cold water fatty fish such as albacore tuna, mackeral, lake trout, sardines, herring, halibut, and salmon have been shown to help lower cholesterol levels because of the type of omega 3 rich oils they contain. Nuts are also a good thing to snack on when fighting cholesterol. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, and pistachio nuts are all high in polyunsaturated fats that are good for the circulatory system. Just remember nuts tend to be high in calories so don't overindulge in them and it is best if they are not drenched in salt or sugar.
Finally there are also dietary supplements for lowering cholesterol. Fish oil tablets, green tea extract, fiber supplements, ground flax seed, artichoke extract, garlic extract, and barley based supplements have all been shown to help with lowering either total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol. Many of these may have side effects such as diarrhea, gas production, nausea, or interacting with prescriptions. It is best to check with your doctor before adding any supplement to your diet. Niacin supplements have been shown to substanially lower the amount of LDL while raising HDL in the blood though it can have side effects such as flushing and liver complications. Beta-sitosterol is a plant sterol that can lower the production of cholesterol in the liver. Barley based bran has no side effects and is good for lowering cholesterol levels. Many beneficial plant sterols and stanols are now added to products such as margarines, fruit bars, granola bars, juices and cereals, making them a good source of these cholesterol lowering supplements.
By watching what we eat, eating healthy foods, and being more active in our everyday lives, we can win at the cholesterol management game.