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Women's Health
Dietary Facts and Tips

Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol with Diet

Vegetables and Fruits

Eat an abundance of vegetables and fruits; aim for nine servings daily. The more colorful the produce, the more vitamins it contains. The less you cook vegetables, the more vitamins they retain.

Fruits and vegetables high in folic acid are particularly good for your heart. Some good choices include: green leafy vegetables, asparagus, avocado, spinach, citrus fruits and juices, beans, lentils, and chickpeas.

Whole Grains and Fiber

Half of your grains should be whole-grains instead of refined grains; 3 or more ounce-equivalents of whole-grain products per day are recommended. Whole wheat cereals and breads, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta are good choices.

Soluble fiber, found in whole grains, oatmeal, barley, ground flaxseeds, psyllium, and beans, reduces LDL cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber, from fruits and vegetables, is necessary for good health, though it does not have the same cholesterol-reducing effects.

Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol

Minimize saturated fat consumption. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products, such as meat and cheese, and are solid at room temperature.

Limit cholesterol consumption to 300 milligrams (mg) per day (200 mg per day if you have high LDL cholesterol). A 4-ounce serving of chicken breast has 66 mg of cholesterol; pork tenderloin has 74 mg; and ground beef has 96 mg.

Avoid products that contain trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils. These include almost all processed foods such as cookies, crackers, deep-fried frozen foods, packaged mixes, stick margarine, and fast foods.

Choose heart-healthy unsaturated fats from plant sources. These fats increase HDL (good) cholesterol when they replace saturated fats and carbohydrates in the diet. Polyunsaturated fats have the additional benefit of decreasing total and LDL cholesterol levels. Oils high in cholesterol-reducing polyunsaturated fat include corn, sunflower, safflower, and soybean. Good monounsaturated oils include canola, olive, and peanut.

Soft margarine made from vegetables oils is the best. Avoid hard or stick margarines and hardened vegetable oils, such as Crisco, for baking.

Keep calcium intake high (1,000 mg daily for women under 50 and 1,200 mg daily for women over 50), but consume only fat-free or low-fat dairy products.

Lean Meats and Seafood

Research suggests that having about two servings of fish per week (approximately 8 ounces total) may lower the risk of death from coronary heart disease. Choose fatty fish and shellfish high in omega-3 fatty acids – polyunsaturated fats – that can reduce triglyceride levels, which appear to be higher in women. Good omega-3 fish sources include salmon, albacore tuna, trout, shrimp, and scallops.

When it comes to eating fish, there are some important safety limits for women. Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or of childbearing age:

should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish because they have high levels of mercury that could be dangerous to unborn and breastfeeding babies.

can eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of other fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

can eat up to six ounces of albacore tuna per week. Albacore or "white" tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna.

For people who are not pregnant, breastfeeding, or of childbearing age, the mercury content in fish and shellfish is not a health concern.

Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids include soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed.

Always choose the leanest white meats (such as chicken or turkey without the skin—breast meat or drumstick is best) and decrease consumption of red meats.

Beans and legumes are excellent meat substitutes.

For women ages 19 to 30, the daily recommended amount from the meat and beans food group is five and one-half ounces; the recommendation for women over the age of 30 is five ounces. Women who are more physically active may need more from this food group.

Don't try to revamp your diet and lifestyle overnight. Gradual and realistic changes tend to be more lasting. As a safety net, take a multivitamin with minerals daily. Consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may advise you to consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium daily.

If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation (up to one drink per day for women and two drinks for men). Limit your consumption of refined carbohydrates and foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, such as sodas, candy bars, and other junk food. Avoid fast food, especially the "value combos" that are loaded with fats, sodium, and calories. And, watch your portions at every meal. The earlier we begin to take care of our hearts, and those of our loved ones, the healthier and happier everyone will be.

Most of the health information contained in this article is adapted from, Eating for Lower Cholesterol: A Balanced Approach to Heart Health with Recipes Everyone Will Love (Marlowe & Company, December 2005), by Catherine Jones and Elaine Trujillo, MS, RD, CNSD.

© 2007 Dr. Rodney Randall, MD | all rights reserved | Some information provided by government agencies. CLICK HERE for more info.