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Nutrition Articles  ›  Special Concerns

The Keys to Conquering Cholesterol

Do's and Don'ts for a Healthy Heart

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian
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Heart disease is a scary thing. In the face of dire risk factor statistics and horror stories about cholesterol, you can easily get rattled. You might feel overwhelmed by the whole cholesterol question, and feel like you face uninformed life and death decisions every time you sit down at the table.

But reducing your risk of heart disease is not an impossible task. All it takes is a few simple adjustments.

Your cholesterol level is determined by several factors, including your genetic makeup, your diet, and certain lifestyle choices. You can’t do anything about genes passed down from Grandpa Charlie, but you can change your future with a few new, heart-friendly lifestyle choices.

The list below contains several strategies to help you develop cholesterol-smart, heart-healthy habits. These nutritional do’s and don’ts won’t have you feeling deprived, or require you to train for a marathon. They will, however, make your heart very happy. And a happy heart has nothing to be afraid of.

DO watch your cholesterol intake. Dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol you eat) may raise blood cholesterol levels. Limit dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams a day.

DO limit the fat in your diet. A diet rich in fat encourages weight gain and may lead to elevated blood cholesterol levels.

DON’T eliminate all fat from your diet. You need some fat in your diet for good health. Fat adds pleasure to your meal and makes you feel satisfied after the meal. Fat also gives flavor, texture, and moisture to food.

DO choose olive oil and canola oil for salad dressing, sautéing vegetables, cooking and baking. They are rich in monounsaturated fat, the heart healthy fat.

DON’T forego seeds and nuts, like almonds, walnuts, pecans, and peanuts. These are high in the healthy monounsaturated fats. A small handful 3-5 times a week can help prevent heart disease and increase your HDL (high density lipoprotein, the good cholesterol) levels.

DO find more soluble fiber. Soluble fiber may help lower blood cholesterol levels. It is found in oats, rice, bran, barley, dried peas and beans, and certain fruits like prunes and apples.

DON’T overlook complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Choose more whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, brown rice, and dried beans and peas. Enjoy fruits and vegetables more often.

DON’T overindulge in salt. High blood pressure is associated with a diet high in sodium. Check labels carefully and watch the amount of salt you use in cooking and at the table.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • NJ_HOU
    Using olive oil to pan fry is a bad idea, most cooks go over 400 when frying so unless you are checking the temperature ... just use a high heat oil do yourself a favor.
    Below are 2 rather lengthy explanations and the issue is related to Smoke Point
    the first is from livestrong dot com and the second from internationaloliv
    eoil dot org:
    The biggest health risk when frying with olive oil occurs when it is heated beyond its smoke point. The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which the oil begins to give off smoke. That smoke contains compounds harmful to human health. Some of these compounds are harmful when breathed in along with the smoke. Others, free radicals, have been implicated in degenerative diseases like cancer.
    Varieties of Olive Oil
    Olive oil has a wide range of smoke points. Extra virgin olive oil smokes at 320 degrees Fahrenheit. A high-quality low-acidity extra virgin oil smokes at 405 degrees. Virgin olive oil smokes at 420 degrees and extra light olive oil smokes at 468 degrees. Foods are typically fried at 350 to 375 degrees. Practically, that means that some olive oils are fine for frying; others will smoke before getting hot enough to fry well. Choosing a low-acid, light oil will minimize the health hazards of frying in olive oil. livestrong dot com and internationaloliv
    eoil dot org says
    Olive oil is ideal for frying. In proper temperature conditions, without over-heating, it undergoes no substantial structural change and keeps its nutritional value better than other oils, not only because of the antioxidants but also due to its high levels of oleic acid. Its high smoking point (210C/aka 410 F) is substantially higher than the ideal temperature for frying food (180C/aka c.350 F). Those fats with lower critical points, such as corn and butter, break down at this temperature and form toxic products. - 2/27/2014 9:55:56 AM
  • CRESENTROLL2
    thanks good to know. Mine is climbing on a statin drug as of yesterday doc said if I lose about 20lbs she will take me off of it.
    - 1/11/2014 7:01:14 PM
  • Had mine checked it was good. My potassium was high. Not very high but high. They say it comes from taking water pills. But the article is great. - 9/8/2013 6:18:04 PM
  • WEAVERKAT
    Thanks to Cherryblossom for the correct information on canola. - 8/29/2013 9:54:56 PM
  • Further to the comment below which has Canola being made from GMO corn it in fact comes from an entirely different plant related to the turnip. It is more commonly known as rapeseed (the Latin for turnip is rapum).
    Canola oil is low in saturated fat and contains both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio of 2:1. If consumed, it also reduces low-density lipoprotein and overall cholesterol levels, and as a significant source of the essential omega-3 fatty acid is associated with reduced all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. It is recognized by many health professional organizations including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American Heart Association. Canola oil has been given a qualified health claim from the United States Food and Drug Administration due to its high levels of cholesterol-lower
    ing fats (from Wikipedia}.. - 6/28/2013 8:39:16 PM
  • I started on Niacin for cholestrol - 5/20/2013 6:43:45 PM
  • SCHAPKO
    So many opinions here on the subject; I am more confused than ever! I don't know who or what to believe now!!! - 4/5/2013 9:23:18 AM
  • Reminds me to have mine checked, thanks. :) - 2/28/2013 11:07:44 PM
  • I have had very high cholesterol: for the last 28 years- first time tested for it - was told I would be dead in 5 years - 78 and still going strong, told by a doctor once, that some people have a naturally high cholesterol level, and live with it.
    Exercise daily and kayak 3-4 times per week, and watch I do not eat too much, but on the whole eat what I want. Horses for courses perhaps. - 2/28/2013 8:33:25 PM
  • ITSMEVEVE
    This information is not right. You need fat for your brain. I have started adding fat into my diet. I listen to Dr Davis who wrote "Wheat Belly" he is also a heart Dr.
    Canola oil? Made from GMO corn I am not willing to take the risk of putting GMO's in my body.
    This cholesterol watch was added to my account automatically when I joined but I don't feel its watching out for my best interests. I am not sure how to turn it off. - 2/28/2013 4:04:03 PM
  • FP4HLOSER
    I watched the documentary FatHead. Very informative. - 9/11/2012 3:30:13 PM
  • This is an excellent article to magnet to the fridge.
    A few more tips: Melons like cantaloupe and spring melons are high in fiber. Potatos, yams, spaghetti and butternut squash, Not white rice which is mostly carbohydrate but brown rice or wild rice, high in fiber.
    Extra light olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, sesame oil are mostly monounsaturates. I find the olive oil adds the better flavor to foods, followed by sesame oil.
    Carbohydrates do increase cholesterol when stored as fat first. Try low carbohydrate foods with flavors, desserts i.e mostly made low sugar but with fruit for flavoring. I make muffins and omit the milk, eggs substituting with apple sauce or one of the healthy harvest brands of sauce like peach or mango medley. Instead of vanilla which is an alcohol, I keep
    lemon, orange, apricot flavors on my pantry shelves for baking, this really perks up a dessert.
    Enjoy the food! - 8/30/2012 1:53:56 PM
  • I am sorry to say Becky Hand is way behind the times, both in how to lower cholesterol, and if in fact high cholesterol is as dangerous as Big Pharma would like us to believe. Becky needs to read Dr. Uffe Ravnskov's books along with Dr. William Davis' and Gary Taubes' works. Get with the times! - 8/30/2012 10:52:04 AM
  • Becky Hand, please guide me to the research studies that indicate that monounsaturated fat intake is associated with increased HDL. To my knowledge, nothing we eat will increase our HDL level, but like Mayo Clinic says, "Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive, peanut and canola oils tend to improve HDL's anti-inflammatory abilities. Nuts, fish and other foods containing omega-3 fatty acids are other good choices for improving your LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio." Improving anti-inflammatory abilities is not the same as raising the number. Omega-3s (polyunsaturated fats) improve the ratio of of LDL to HDL, but it doesn't necessarily raise HDL. (http://www.mayoc
    linic.com/hea
    lth/hdl-chole
    sterol/CL0003
    0/NSECTIONGROUP=2) - 8/30/2012 7:11:49 AM
  • Just don't eat meat and dairy, instant cholesterol drop. It's not easy, I've been doing it about a month and have hard a hard time letting go of cheese, lol. I think mentally I feel a bit panicked about the extra carbs I am eating, I spent a lifetime hearing about high animal protein and low carbs is the magic combination...but I think my body is going to respond well to it when it undertstands that this is the way it's going to be from now on. Whole grains, lots of veggies and fruits, avoid prossed foods and there should be very little chance of heart disease. Although there is bias in everything, I got quite a bit of out of the book "The China Study" and the companion movie " Forks Over Knives". It convinced me to cut out animal based foods if I want any control of my health as I age. Enslaving and killing animals is terrible anyway, I feel good getting away from it. - 7/4/2012 11:41:10 AM