Dietary Strategies to Lower Cholesterol
Posted July 2, 2012
When people learn from their doctor that their
cholesterol levels are high, they generally have to change their
diet. This does not mean, however, that they can never indulge their
palate again. With the right choices, they can continue to eat well
and with gusto. Patients taking anti-cholesterol medication should
also watch what they eat.
"Diet, along with not smoking and getting more exercise, is the
basic treatment when cholesterol levels are high," said Achim Weizel,
chairman of the German Society for the Treatment of Lipid Disorders
and Associated Diseases (DGFF). "When someone is really ill, though,
this isn't enough."
The body needs cholesterol, a waxy substance found in the fats
(lipids) of the blood, to continue building healthy cells. The body
produces some of it, and some is ingested via food. The German Heart
Foundation noted that cholesterol became dangerous when there was too
much low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad" cholesterol) in the blood
and too little high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good" cholesterol).
This can lead to substantial fatty deposits - and damage - in the
walls of arteries, impeding blood flow and increasing the risk of a
heart attack or stroke.
Before altering their diet, patients should always ask themselves,
"What's practical?" Weizel said. Otherwise they will be too likely
to abandon their new eating habits and return to the old ones. Both
the DGFF and German Heart Foundation recommend eating a Mediterranean
diet. "We're all familiar with it because we all like to go to
Italian restaurants," Weizel said.
This means eating less meat, a lot of vegetables and fish, more
vegetable oils, dietary fiber and fruit. It is a good idea to change
one's diet gradually, advises Dagmar von Cramm, a German nutrition
expert. First of all, attention should be paid to the fats that are
used, she said.
"Substitute saturated fatty acids with unsaturated ones," von
Cramm recommended. "In other words, refrain from animal fats such as
butter in favour of vegetable fats with plenty of omega-3 fatty
acids, which are found, for example, in fish, good low-fat margarines
and rapeseed oil."
As a general rule, the more fluid at room temperature that a fat
is, the better its fatty acid composition - and hence the greater its
admissibility in one's diet, according to von Cramm. Only low-fat
dairy products should be eaten, she said, adding that people who find
low-fat, plain yogurt insufficiently creamy could make it smoother
with a bit of neutral oil like rapeseed or walnut.
Von Cramm's second recommendation is to increase the proportion of
dietary fiber in one's meals because fiber binds cholesterol in the
intestines, from where it is expelled from the body. Her tip: Eat
three handfuls of vegetables daily.
"Don't eat the vegetables only raw, and don't eat them like
medicine," she said. "Include them in your meal planning in the form
of vegetable dishes, salads or a large side dish." Wholegrain
products are also rich in dietary fibre and should therefore appear
on the dining table more often.
Thirdly, von Cramm advised, "Hands off ready-to-serve pastry." She
pointed out that it often contains a lot of unhealthy fats, as do
fatty meat, fatty sausage, fatty cheese and rich spreads. She said it
was better to bake a cake oneself, particularly with yeast dough
since it required little fat. Curd cheese oil dough and Arab phyllo
dough are other cholesterol-free alternatives.
As for dessert, von Cramm suggested fruit and nuts instead of
things containing cream and eggs.
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