Eating Well With Kim: National Cholesterol Awareness Month

By: Kim Beavers Email
By: Kim Beavers Email

Many people complain about nutrition science because it is ever changing.

What we lose sight of is that the reason nutrition science is constantly changing is because it is progressing. New studies come out and add knowledge to what we already know or thought we knew.

In order to keep current, our thoughts and recommendations need to change or alter based on the newest information. However, regarding the subject of cholesterol, although some things remain the same, it is still important to have your cholesterol checked and know your numbers. Why? Because when cholesterol rises, there is potential increase in heart disease risk. Risk potential changes based on type and size of cholesterol particle. For more information, click here.

What has changed over the years is how we measure cholesterol and the treatment options available based on the cholesterol numbers. For example, researchers originally thought that dietary cholesterol (cholesterol we get in our food supply) was the primary factor in raising blood cholesterol.

However, now we know that only about one third of cholesterol comes from the diet and the remaining is manufactured in our bodies. In addition, we know that saturated fat intake affects blood cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol.

We also now have the ability to identify the different components of our cholesterol. There is the LDL (low-density lipoprotein or the bad cholesterol) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein or the “good cholesterol”). In addition, cholesterol can be broken into different particle size, which further describes the disease promoting properties of the cholesterol. Regardless of all that, you have to know your own numbers to identify your risk and if they are higher than desired, there are certain dietary factors that play a role. Below is a review of foods you can find in your grocery store to help manage cholesterol levels.

For more information about heart disease risk and advanced screening, contact University Hospital Systems Heart Attack and Stroke Prevention Center at (706) 774-5548 or click here.

Foods to keep your cholesterol in control:

-Soluble fiber: Need 25-35g total fiber per day (at least 10g of that should be soluble fiber). Sources: Oat bran, oatmeal, beans, peas, rice bran, barley, citrus fruit, bananas, strawberries, apple pulp, citrus fruits and the insides of fruits/vegetables. Most natural foods contain a mix of soluble and insoluble fibers! The best sources of soluble fiber are: pears, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, beans, oats and barley. For easy ways to cook beans, click here.

Omega 3 fatty acids (a type of polyunsaturated fat): Recommended 2 servings of fish per week. Sources: Salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, flaxseed, canola oil and fortified products.

Mono and poly unsaturated fats: When mono and poly unsaturated fats replace saturated and trans fats in your diet, it can reduce blood cholesterol levels (affects LDL levels the most). Sources: olive oil, canola oil, peanut butter, avocados, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring).

Phytosterols (plant sterols and stanols): Natural components of plant foods which can help block the absorption of cholesterol in your intestines. The American Heart Association recommends ~2 gm/day for health benefits, which can lower LDL cholesterol by 6 to 15 percent. Although found in every plant food, they are not in high enough concentrations to reach the 2g/day recommendation. Therefore, fortified foods with sterols are usually needed. Sources: fortified margarine, salad dressing, yogurt, milk, bread, cheese.

Foods with added fiber (functional fiber): Many companies have increased the fiber in their products by adding functional fibers. The Institute of Medicine defines a functional fiber as isolated, extracted or synthetic fiber which has proven health benefits. The most common functional fibers used in foods are inulin, resistant corn starch, polydextrose and soluble corn fiber.
There is limited research on the health benefits of functional fibers in foods, and recommendations encourage the consumption of foods containing naturally-occurring fiber. My thought is that whole food is always the best bet. However, I think consuming additional fiber in an already healthy food is likely fine (an oatmeal or whole grain cereal, for example) and probably offers additional benefit, however, consuming functional fiber in a “not-so-healthy food” (like ice cream) is not likely to be beneficial.

Foods to limit!

Foods with saturated fat: We still need to watch our saturated fat intake. That means consuming lean beef, pork and poultry without the skin and limiting the higher-fat items. Lower-fat dairy is also recommended to keep saturated fat in check. I think those recommendations are wise!
However, it is not just meat and dairy we need to watch ... it is really the processed “junk type” foods that should get the label “foods to limit." For example, my beloved Swiss Cake rolls (yes, I grew up snacking on these -- didn’t everyone?) have 5g saturated fat per serving and with that comes very little nutrient value. Definitely read your labels when picking out your junk food of choice.

Foods with trans fat: Much of the trans fat has been slowly disappearing from our food supply (thankfully, as it is worse on our heart health than saturated fat). However, there are a few places it can still be found such as frozen biscuits, pie crust, icing, some doughnuts and baking mixes (cake and cookie).
There are many foods like baking mixes that list “0g” trans fat on the label, however, they have partially-hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list (meaning they have trans fat). If they have 0.5g trans fat or less per serving, they can list “0g” on the label, meaning if you eat more than one serving, you can end up unknowingly consume 1g of trans fat.
The trans fat maximum intake is about 1-2g day ... which is why I point out products even with trivial amounts of partially-hydrogenated oil. I don’t like this stuff and I want it gone from our foods! If we don’t buy it, they will stop making the products or change them!
Lately I have noticed many of the cake and cookie mixes are coming out with mixes that have NO partially-hydrogenated oil. Two that come to mind are: Kroger cake mix (store brand) and Krusteaz cookie mixes. Of course, cake and cookie mix is not healthy, but in reality, we all make some cakes and cookies from time to time, and I prefer mine with out the trans fat!

The bottom line:
Eat more produce, beans and oats, choose lean meat and seafood more often, focus on lower-fat dairy choices, supplement with fibers and plant stanol esters (if needed) and always read the food labels to make the best food choices.

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