September is National Cholesterol Education Month. Do you know what it takes to keep your cholesterol in check? Basically, you should increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains because these contain vegetable protein, soluble fiber and certain plant chemicals that lower cholesterol. Meanwhile, you should decrease your intake of animal products and processed foods that contain saturated fat, trans fat, dietary cholesterol and animal protein, all of which raise your cholesterol. The best place to start is right in your own kitchen. Here is a list of items that are convenient and delicious for the lower-your-cholesterol kitchen.
Make the dairy switch
Switching from regular dairy products to skim or fat-free dairy products will really make a difference in the amount of saturated fat you consume. By switching from whole milk to skim milk you can save almost five grams of saturated fat per cup or almost 1,600 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat per year!! Here are a few products to make this switch easier:
• Skim Plus milk is fat free as its name suggests. It is thicker than regular milk and even contains more calcium.
• Fat-free Half-N-Half® by Land-O-Lakes is an excellent product that can replace cream or half-n-half in most cooking and baking applications.
• Fat-free whipped cream is an excellent choice for desserts when used sparingly.
• Fat-free ricotta is a good choice for lasagna and most pasta recipes. We have had a lot of success with this product when it is blended in equal parts with silken tofu.
• Regular cheese is very high in saturated fat. To reduce the saturated fat from cheese, use a reduced-fat version and reduce the amount by 75 percent.
• Margarines such as Benecol and Take Control are not only without the saturated fat of butter, but these margarines contain plant stanols or sterols which have been proven to lower cholesterol when part of a heart-healthy diet. Benecol, in our opinion, has the best flavor of the two. It is high in calories so use sparingly.
Be protein savvy
• Both white meat turkey and chicken, without the skin, contain the least amount of saturated fat as compared to beef, lamb or pork. However, they are still a form of animal protein, which raises serum cholesterol levels.
• Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, trout, tuna, kingfish, sardines and herring, contain the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be beneficial for your heart. Keep your serving sizes small, around three to four ounces, about the size of a deck of cards.
• Soy protein has been shown to lower serum cholesterol levels. The FDA now allows a health claim for food products that contain at least 6.25 grams of protein per serving. Tofu, soybeans, soynuts, edamame, tempeh, soymilk and some veggie burgers contain this much per serving.
• Instead of using whole eggs, use egg whites. You can also purchase plain egg whites or fat-free egg substitute or separate them yourself.
• Beans are last, but certainly not least. By “beans” we mean legumes or dried beans. Split peas, black beans, lentils, white beans, chick peas and pinto beans are a few examples. These little powerhouses are one of the best sources of plant protein AND soluble fiber — just one cup cooked contains more than two grams of soluble fiber per serving.
Include more fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are excellent choices for a heart-healthy, lower-cholesterol diet. They are rich in soluble fiber and phytochemicals, which can help lower cholesterol along with the risk for heart disease and certain cancers.
Oatmeal and oat bran are two excellent sources of soluble fiber. Oatmeal is good any time of day. Cook it in large batches so you can enjoy it cold on busier mornings and for snacks. Don’t forget to eat brown rice and whole-wheat products too. You will increase your fiber intake greatly when you choose these over their refined, white counterparts.
Use olive or canola oil very sparingly for cooking and salads. Practice using a spray oil or a very small, measured amount (one teaspoon) of these oils for sautéing and pan frying.
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. But after learning that the quality of a croissant directly varies with how much butter it has, Judy sought to challenge herself by coming up with recipes that were as healthy as they were tasty.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.