By: Claire Chiasson, LDN, RDN, Thibodaux Regional Health System
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that our bodies need to make certain hormones
and vitamins; however, too much cholesterol in our bodies can cause health
problems such as heart disease and stroke. Our liver typically makes cholesterol
in the right amount we need. But one’s diet also provides dietary
cholesterol through eating animal-based flesh and fat like meats, eggs,
whole milk and dairy products, and butter.
Bad vs. Good Cholesterol
There are two types of blood cholesterol, known as low- density lipoproteins
(LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Low density lipoprotein is
known as the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to fatty
buildups in the arteries; these buildups cause blockages throughout the
body. High density lipoproteins are known as “good” because
they carry the LDL away from the arteries and back to the liver to be
Benefits of reducing cholesterol
Studies show that lowering LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol
reduces the risk of cardiovascular death, heart attacks, stroke, and the
need for surgical cardiac interventions.
Tips for achieving healthy cholesterol levels through diet and lifestyle
Consume adequate soluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps trap dietary cholesterol in the GI tract, preventing
it from being absorbed into the bloodstream, therefore lowering cholesterol
levels. Foods high in soluble fiber include whole grains like oats and
100% whole grain cereal; legumes such as lima beans, kidney beans, and
lentils; and fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, and pears.
Decrease intake of saturated and trans fats. These unhealthy fats cause the liver to produce too much cholesterol.
Saturated fats are found mainly in animal products such as whole milk;
full-fat cheese; fatty meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and fried
foods; chocolate; and baked goods. Trans fats are found mainly in foods
that contain hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils like fried foods,
stick margarine, and pastries. Replace these bad fats with healthy, unsaturated
fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, and nut butters, and with certain oils
such as olive, canola, and avocado oil.
Quit smoking. Smoking lowers HDL levels and increases LDL levels.
Be physically active. Raise good HDL cholesterol through moderate physical activity such as
walking, bike riding, and resistance training for a total of 150 minutes per week.
Lose weight if overweight. Carrying even a few extra pounds can contribute to high cholesterol. Therefore,
consider reducing portion sizes of unhealthy foods and beverages while
increasing physical activity.
Healthy Food Choices when eating out
Choose foods that have been cooked with healthier methods such as grilled,
baked, steamed, or poached instead of fried foods. Replace French fries
with a side salad, vegetables, or a baked potato. Ask for salad dressings
and sauces to be placed on the side to control portions of fat. Choose
beverages wisely, and drink water instead of high-calorie soft drinks
or sugar-sweetened teas.
For more information or to meet with a dietitian, call Thibodaux Regional
Wellness Education Center at 985-493-4765.