Cholesterol and healthy eating

• How does my diet affect my cholesterol level?

• What foods are high in saturated fats?

• What foods are high in cholesterol?

• What foods should I consume in moderation?

• What foods should I eat to lower my cholesterol?

• Does drinking alcohol help to reduce cholesterol?

• What food should I eat on a daily basis?

How does my diet affect my cholesterol level?
There are two different types of fat, saturated and unsaturated. Animal and dairy foods in particular contain high levels of saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels. Therefore, the more of these foods you eat the higher your risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Unsaturated fat includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fats are contained in olive oil, rapeseed oil and some spreads. Polyunsaturated fats are found in sunflower oil, safflower, corn oil, certain spreads and oily fish.

For this reason it is worth reducing the level of animal and dairy fats in your diet. By modifying your intake of fat, calories and carbohydrates, the level of cholesterol in your blood can be reduced. However, the degree of dietary restriction will depend on your age and condition.

If you smoke you need more fruit and vegetables to safeguard your vitamin intake. If there is a history of heart disease in your family, it is recommended that eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, which are rich in vitamins that may help protect against heart disease. However, there are no short cuts – taking a vitamin supplement does not provide the same health benefits.

What foods are high in saturated fats?
Foods that are high in saturated fats that can raise cholesterol include:

• Red meat.
• Hard cheeses.
• Butter.
• Cream.
• Full-fat milk.
• Yogurt.
• Lard.
• Ice-cream.
• Crisps.

Many processed and prepared foods such as pies, biscuits, cakes and burgers also contain large amounts of animal fat. It is worth checking the labels on these foods to determine the type and amount of saturated fat they contain.

What foods are high in cholesterol?
Food high in cholesterol include:
• Kidney.
• Liver.
• Sweetbreads.
• Shellfish such as lobster and prawns.

What foods should I consume in moderation?
There are some foods that should be taken in moderation as they can contribute to a high level of cholesterol in the blood. These include:

• Meats such as fatty bacon and pork, sausages and black and white pudding.
• Cooking fats including lard, dripping and vegetable oils.
• Butter, margarine and other spreads.
• Milk.
• Cream, ice cream, artificial creams and sweet yogurts.
• Thick and creamy soups.
• Rich sauces and gravies, mayonnaise, and salad cream.
• Cheese – choose medium and low-fat varieties, and use as an alternative to meat at a meal.
• Eggs – use a maximum of 4 to 6 a week.
• White bread and other white flour products.
• Sugar, jam, soft drinks and sweet foods generally.
• Foods which contain the above as ingredients, such as pastries, cakes, rich biscuits, chocolate, toffees and sweets.

While salt itself does not contribute to high cholesterol levels, eating too much can cause high blood pressure that in turn is associated with heart disease and stroke. Therefore, it is worth cutting down on the amount you eat.

• Try not to add salt to food to season it, instead try freshly ground pepper or another seasoning.
• Keep an eye on the amount of salty meat such as bacon, gammon and ham you eat.
• Cut down on salty snacks including crisps and salted nuts.
• Check food labels for sodium, salt, sodium chloride, or monosodium glutamate content. Bottled sauces and tinned foods often have a high salt content.

What foods should I eat to lower my cholesterol?
Certain food can help to reduce the level of cholesterol in your body.

Fruit and vegetables
Irish men, especially in the younger age group only eat about half the recommended portions of fruit and vegetables, according to the Irish Heart Foundation. In general, we eat less fruit and vegetables than other EU countries. However, it is important to eat at least five portions every day, including:
• Fresh vegetables, cooked or raw.
• Salads.
• Potatoes eaten in their jackets, without added fat.
• Fresh fruit.
• Pure fruit juices.

Eating more fruit and vegetables will help you be a healthy weight and may help protect against heart disease because they are:
• High in fibre.
• Rich in A,C and E vitamins (antioxidant vitamins).
• Rich in folate (B vitamin).
• Virtually fat free.
• Low in calories.

An average portion is one of the following:
• Half a glass of fruit juice.
• Two tablespoons of cooked vegetables or salad.
• A small bowl of homemade vegetable soup.
• One medium-sized piece of fresh fruit.
• Two tablespoons of cooked fruit or tinned fruit (preferably its in own juice).

Soluble fibre, present in fruit, vegetables and oats, can also help to reduce cholesterol levels. These 'filler' foods should be the main component of a healthy varied diet, because they provide filling without too many calories and are a good source of other nutrients.

It is best to choose a variety – try to have a least six servings of bread, cereal and potatoes, and at least four servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Experts also recommend increasing your intake of foods such as:
• Wholemeal bread.
• Whole grain or enriched flour products.
• Brown rice.
• Pasta.
• Breakfast cereals such as porridge and oats.
• Scones and fruitcake.

Other recommended foods include:
• Lean meat, fish (both white and oily types) or poultry. Eat, these more often than red meat.
• Homemade soups, broths, consommé, beef and yeast extracts.
• Fat-free gravies and sauces based on fruit and vegetables.
• French dressing used lightly on salads.

Steps to healthy eating:
• Reduce the amount of fat in your diet.
• Use vegetable oils instead of animal fats.
• Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables.
• Go on a sensible weight-reducing diet if necessary.
• Total fat intake should make up about one-third of your energy intake.
• Saturated fat should not exceed 11% of this.

Does drinking alcohol help to reduce cholesterol?
Heart disease is less common in drinkers than in non-drinkers and moderate use of alcohol is thought to be linked with 'good' cholesterol, known as HDL cholesterol. Drinking red wine in moderation seems to provide mild protection against coronary heart disease, according to the WHO.

However, in 1999 researchers in Britain found that regular, moderate drinkers of beer and spirits also have a small advantage over those who drink only occasionally. They pointed out that it was possible that wine drinkers had a lower risk of heart disease and death than men who drank beer or spirits due to the fact they were more likely to be well-off and less likely to smoke, thus reducing their risk. The researchers concluded that drinking alcohol regardless of type was mildly protective.

However, it should be noted that the benefit is not great enough to recommend drinking alcohol to reduce cholesterol levels or the chances of heart disease, so drinking in moderation is advisable.

This means taking no more than two to three drinks a day, with some days in the week free of alcohol. The recommended upper limit for alcohol intake is:

• Men: 21 units a week.
• Women: 14 units a week.
• (One glass of beer or wine is one unit, while one measure of spirits is 1.5 units)

What food should I eat on a daily basis?
The following foods should be eaten every day:
• Breakfast - start your day with a half glass of fruit juice or dry chopped fruit on cereals - try banana, apple or orange. You could also try some porridge or wholegrain cereal.
• Lunch - Have at least one vegetable or a mixture in your wholemeal bread sandwich. You could also use fish, lean meat or low-fat cheese.
• Dinner - Have at least one vegetable with your dinner (as well as potatoes). Finish off lunch and dinner with fruit.
• Snacks - Try fruit for mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. Tea, coffee, fruit juice, fresh fruit or a digestive-type biscuit are other alternatives.

Other recommendations include:

• Using skimmed milk or low-fat milk in beverages and on cereal.
• Using, low fat cheese and low fat yogurt regularly.
• Using polyunsaturated or monounsaturated margarines or spreads instead of butter on bread.

• Reducing your intake of high-fat, salty snack foods such as crisps. Choose low fat snacks like plain popcorn instead.
• Choosing food that is grilled, boiled, steamed, dry roasted, casseroled or oven baked in preference to fried or deep fat fried.
• Choosing spreads high in polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat more often.
• Eating more fish and chicken and choosing lean red meat.
• Keeping chips to once a week at most.
• Cutting down on the amount of cakes, biscuits, chocolate and confectionery foods you eat. Read the labels and choose lower fat options.

Trying some wholegrain pasta and wholegrain or wild rice.
• Eating more wholemeal bread, rolls and scones.
• Eating fibre-rich breakfast cereals regularly.

Fruit and vegetables
• Eating more fruit and vegetables - include a wide variety and eat the skins where possible.
• Choosing fruit-based desserts.
• Eating more peas, beans and lentils.
• Eating more potatoes, particularly baked and boiled potatoes with the skins.

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