There are a few other general changes you can make to reduce your intake of fat and cholesterol-rich foods. Each of these measures will help you to develop healthier eating habits. As a result, you should see your weight and cholesterol levels go down. That will reduce your risk for heart disease.
Understand the Claims on Food Labels
Sometimes food labels can be confusing. Terms such as low-fat, reduced-fat, fat-free, and low-cholesterol help sell foods. But what do they really mean to you in planning a diet that's healthier for your heart? The federal government regulates the use of such terms on food packages. Check the chart Can I Choose a Healthy Food by Its Label?, adapted from the National Cholesterol Education Program, to see what these terms really mean.
Eat Plenty of Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains
Fruits and vegetables usually have little or no fat and cholesterol. The same is true for whole-grain-based foods. These are foods such as breads, cereals, rice, and pasta. In most cases, they're also lower in calories than foods with a high-fat content. They tend to be packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These foods should make up a large portion of your total calories - slightly more than half. It's recommended that you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and at least six servings of grains.
Some people are afraid to eat carbohydrate-rich foods such as potatoes or pasta. They fear that high calorie counts in these foods might cause weight gain. But the bad reputation that these foods have is not deserved. In truth, the excess calories you're worried about do not typically come from the potatoes, pasta, or other carbohydrates. Rather, the high calories come from what you put on these foods. To control calories, don't slather your carbohydrates with butter, whole-milk cheese, or creamy sauces or toppings. Also, watch your portions. Even the calories from a low-calorie food will add up if you eat too many servings.
To learn more about how to get all the nutrients you need, see How Can I Make Sure My Diet Is Balanced?
Limit the Amount of Animal Protein You Eat
Animal products are rich in protein, which you need, but they also contribute 2/3 of the saturated fat in our diets. So it's important not to go overboard with them. Meats, poultry, and fish can be part of your healthy diet as long as you eat them in moderation. In fact, you can help lower your cholesterol if you eat at least two servings of fish each week in place of meat. Salmon and tuna are especially healthy choices. Have no more than 6 ounces of lean meat, skinless poultry, and fish per day. The 6-ounce limit applies to the cooked weight. Three ounces of cooked meat is about the size of a deck of cards or a checkbook.
Use Cooking Methods That Are Healthy for Your Heart
Changing the way you cook can help you reduce the fat and cholesterol in your diet. Learning to cook heart-healthy meals isn't difficult. For most of us, it means substituting similar foods that are lower in fat and choosing cooking methods that use less fat. For detailed tips, How Can I Cook Healthy Meals?
Eat Healthfully Even When You Eat Out
Eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol doesn't mean you can't enjoy dining out. The key is to remember your goals for your health even when you're away from home. Don't consider a restaurant the place to binge. It may help you if you don't deprive yourself of your favorite foods at home. Learn to cook more healthful versions of your favorite meals while you're home. This way, you'll be less tempted to eat the less-healthful restaurant version. For more tips about how to maintain your healthy habits when you're out on the town, see How Can I Eat Healthfully When I Eat Out?
Consider Adding Plant Stanols or Plant Sterols and Soluble Fiber to Your Diet
If you cannot bring your LDL - the bad cholesterol - down to a healthy level by reducing the amount of fat and cholesterol you eat, try this. Add food products such as margarines and salad dressings that lower cholesterol. You may also reduce LDL levels by eating more soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is found in all of the following:
- Brussels sprouts
- dried peas and beans