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help needed with hideous new low cholesterol diet!!

  • f

Well, I've reached that awful age where one can no longer abuse ones body with impunity...Just had my annual physical and got a cholesterol count of 272 (gasp!), so clearly I am off the foie gras plan for the forseeable future!!

Anybody have any good recipes, hints about low-chol products that are actually edible, words of encouragment? It's going to be a sad time for my tummy and I'm gonna need all the help I can get!!

Thanks fellow Chowhounds!! May this never happen to you!!

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  1. Both my son and husband have inherited high cholesterol (hypocholesterlemia)and when the diagnosis came in they were immediately put in touch with a dietician. They've got lots of info on food fat content, as well as good listing of foods to be encouraged. It should take some of the guesswork out of your planning to sit down with one of these pros. I was surpised at the range of food you really CAN eat.
    Good luck!

    2 Replies
    1. re: berkleybabe

      Wow!! I should have known that Chowhounds would come through for me!! I just checked the board after being away for a few days and was really happy and touched to see how many people had responded to my pleas for help -- not only with good, sensible advice, but lots of the sorts of tips that can keep my palate stimulated while undergoing this change. I thank you, my arteries thank you!!

      In the immortal words of a thirteen year old buddy -- "Y'all ROCK!!"

      1. re: Fargo

        I have high cholesterol too; diet didn't do it for me, but Lipitor did.....

        Of course, it's still a good idea to eat less cholesterol and saturated fat. One thing I haven't seen much posted about is the glories of fish....(although, alas, not shellfish). Low cholesterol, high protein, good types of fat (Omega 3, I believe) and it even tastes good all sorts of ways, and has lots of variety.

    2. I'm sure you're going to pursue every low-cholesterol avenue, but here's one that I think will be fruitful: Japanese food. The Japanese diet is naturally low in saturated fats and the Japanese eat virtualy no dairy. I think their has one of the world's lowest cholesterol rates. By exploring Japanese food you won't be subjecting yourself to pale imitations of high-sat-fat preparations; rather you'll be eating things that are naturally good for you. Besides becoming a regular at your local Japanese restaurants, a fine book on Japanese cuisine is The Japanese Kitchen by Hiroko Shimbo.
      Also Stonyfield low-fat ice creams and frozen yogurts.
      Good luck!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Erica Marcus
        Jessica Shatan

        Re: fat and japanese food--watch out for tempura (fried) and for avocado (this is "good" fat but you will still have to monitor the amount) in some of the rolls.

        1. re: Erica Marcus

          Actually, Japanese research has shown that there is such a thing as too low a cholesterol level (which, if you've been diagnosed as very high, won't ever apply to you) and that such people tend to have more problems such as strokes, and should not try to lower their cholesterol further through dietary changes.

        2. c
          Caitlin McGrath

          I feel your pain. I have an unfortunate genetic predisposition for high cholesterol that persists despite my dietary reforms--but would certainly be worse without them.

          You don't really need special recipes so much as you need to modify what and how you eat. So, yes, the foie gras-and-cheese-cart diet (or any permutation of the high-protein, high-fat diets) has to go, except, of course, for the occasional (and necessary, IMO) dietary splurge occasions.

          The major idea is to cut back on saturated fats; this is more important than dietary cholesterol itself, but the two often come in the same package. So try to fashion your diet around lean meats like chicken and duck without skin, lean pork, fish; low-fat dairy products; whole grains; fruits and veggies. Learn to avoid butter as an everyday staple. Solid fats like butter, margarine, and solid shortening are to be avoided, as are the hydrogenated oils used in a lot of commercial baked goods and such, as these are very high in saturated fat. Make your cooking, dressing, etc. fats of choice be olive, grapeseed, and canola oils. Use things like parmesan and goat cheese as condiments, so you can enjoy the flavors but keep the serving sizes small. If you're not overly concerned about fat intake (i.e., if you don't also need to shed weight), nuts and seeds, while high in fat, are good protein sources, and are high in unsatirated fat.

          While it's important to drop the total cholesterol count, it's equally important to achieve a good ratio between your levels of "bad" (LDL) and "good" (HDL) cholesterol, and to keep your triglycerides low. There are things you can do to help both drop LDLs and raise HDLs. Getting lots of cardiocascular (aerobic) exercise is one of the best ways to raise HDLs. Also, eating the unsaturated fats in olive and grapeseed oil; eating omega-3 fatty acids, the best dietary sources of which are fatty fish like salmon and mackerel and flaxseeds or flaxseed oil (incidentally, omega-3s have been shown to have a benefial complementary effect on antidepressive medications); eating lots of soy protein; eating whole grains, especially oatmeal and oat bran; and in general consuming lots of fiber through fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

          If you're used to high-fat dairy products as an everyday thing, it'll be a job to adjust, but you do get used to low-fat substitutes. Nonfat or 1% milk are musts; if the idea of skim milk makes you shudder, you might look for the enriched skim milks, which are regular skim plus nonfat milk soldis, and have the body, if not the richness, of 2% milk. Personally, after using low-fat and skim for a long time, whole milk is too rich for me to handle straight up. It's not that hard to learn to live with toast spread with jam but no butter and pancakes, etc. without butter; again, if you miss that taste, make it a special-occasion thing. Eggs are okay to have in moderation, but you need to keep it to a few a week. Egg substitutes like egg beaters (I always look for the brands with the least extraneous ingredients) work quite well when used *in* things, and I do eat them scrambled and in frittatas, etc. even though they're not the same. Low-fat ice creams and frozen yogurts can help with the sweets cravings, if you stick with the quality brands; Haagen Dazs vanilla, caramel vanilla, and dulce de leche low-fat ice creams and Stonyfield Farms are some of the best I've found. And of course, sorbet is ideal.

          Good luck! Take heart in knowing that at least you are most likely prolonging your life by keeping those arteries clear.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

            Good luck, I've inherited the problem too.

            I don't know how much prep of your own foods you do or are willing to pick up now, but you will be better able to control fat content as well as salt and so on when making your own rather than buying prepared foods. If time is an issue, try this. When I was working full time and also going to school full time, I used to make my own stocks (5 nights of takeout was expensive and often bad!) After cooling and skimming I'd freeze it in ice cube trays. Pop it out of the trays and store it in plastic bags - each cube is about an ounce. Thaws in no time. Makes it very easy to have home-made soup or a base for sauces.

            Play with herbs and spices: as fat is often where flavor is derived, you may find that foods don't taste as appealing when the fat is reduced. Intense flavor can be achieved by braised or poaching in infused liquids, and with much less fat. Also, search here on the boards for vegetarian cookbook suggestions, and start experimenting!

            And recently, a friend on a non-dairy diet introduced me to Soy-delicious - a ice cream-like dessert. It's quite good, especially the chocolate.

            Have fun!

          2. c
            Caitlin Wheeler

            A couple of good low-fat cookbook suggestions: Canyon Ranch makes a cookbook with great recipes, all low-fat, including one for satay with peanut sauce that I make pretty often. Nigella Lawson in "How to Eat" has a low fat section with some delicious recipes, mostly involving Asian ingredients (instant dashi, soba noodles) that are easy to make and really good. As for eating out, rediscover the joys of seafood, which can be just as satisfying as steak.

            1. If it is any consolation, can I say that I have found the same diagnosis totally liberating foodwise. Avoiding saturated fat doesn't have to mean a joyless regime of boiled lentils and rice cakes, but can be an opportunity to be creative with nearly all of the same foods that you were eating beforehand.

              Two personal experiences:

              I reduced my count and improved my HDL:LDL ratio quite significantly in the first months just by switching to a breakfast of muesli made with oats, oat bran, fruit and soya milk (surprisingly tasty) followed by a gentle cycle into work.

              There is no reason not to splurge once in a while. Last winter, I received a present of several ducks, which meant I was eating cassoulet for days afterwards. My dietician wasn't freaked: apparently duck fat is mono-unsaturated and the lycopenes in the tomatoes are good for your heart. Not to mention the regular accompaniment of two glasses of red wine, which is packed with all sorts of things which are thought to be beneficial.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Martyn

                One thing I've discovered recently is making sorbets in our ice cream maker. Great replacement for ice cream and very easy to make. We have the cuisinart ice cream maker and it's so great.

              2. My cholesterol was at 318 because of a thyroid condition. Then it dropped to 254 after they got the thyroid under control. I didn't want to take any more prescription meds. So, my doctor let me try to get it down on my own. I dropped it down to 212 (now). I eat frosted cheerios with ground flaxseed every morning, I eat alot of fish, turkey, and chicken. I only eat red meat about twice a week. I also eat a handful of walnuts everyday. I don't eat egg yolks (whites only). I also take alot of vitamins that help- fish oil, red yeast extract, multi-vitamin, garlic, and just started to try cholest off. I use olive oil only, and butter with omega 3 in it. There are alot of good recipes that don't taste horrible. I eat alot of sweets such as, berry muffins, oatmeal cookies, etc. So, don't think you will dye for good food. I eat twice as much as I did before and never gain any weight. My goal is to get mine under 200. So, good luck and do some research on cholesterol- what foods are good for you and what foods aren't. Hope this helps

                1 Reply
                1. re: cportwine

                  Make sure you grind your flax seed otherwise it does not release the beneficial oils and you would be better off just taking the pill form. I did not know this until recently. Google Dr. Oz and he explains much better than I- the husks of the flax seed are too hard for our system to digest so if eaten without grinding they "pass through" without any added benefits...

                2. I have high cholesterol too, as a result of poor dietary choices in the past and an underactive thyroid condition (Hashimoto's disease). Basically, I have gone back to a diet that I know works for me - one that includes eating lots of fresh veggies and as much fruit as I can stand to eat (I always put more veggies on my plate than starches or protein). Grilled seafood (I don't eat red meat or poultry) instead of fried or sauteed (except for stir frys, which I make a lot of). Wholegrains and polyunsaturated fats (from things such as natural nut butters, nuts, seeds, olives and even dark chocolate in moderation). And I cut right back on the amount of cheese I eat, switching to parmesan, feta, and other lower-fat alternatives instead. And once you get used to the taste, things such as Smart Balance can be real lifesavers (maybe even literally). Their mayonaise and 'butter' spreads have Omega 3's and no hydrogenated oils. When eating out, I usually opt for Asian food, especially Japanese, because it offers a lot of variety and has more healthy options. But sticking with a true Mediterranean diet works too.

                  1. You've received very good recommendations and advice so far, but one I didn't read was to add Metamucil to your diet. I don't know if it has to be Metamucil, but it does say on the bottle and their website that it's the only brand proven to lower cholesterol. Also, it's the only brand I've used, so that's where I'm coming from.

                    I too had a cholesterol count of 272 two years ago. I added more fruits, veggies, and whole grains to my diet, but I also added 2 level teaspoons of sugar-free orange Metamucil once or twice a day to my diet. My cholesterol count was down to 217 in 3 months and just last summer it was down to 162. No typo, that's a 110 point drop and I'm not on any cholesterol lowering drugs.

                    Unfortunately, my weight hasn't changed much, but thank goodness the cholesterol number did. Like you said, "We're at that awful age where one can no longer abuse ones body with impunity". I now need to get busy on the weight loss part.

                    One other note about Metamucil use, don't take it with vitamins or medications. You need to take it two hours before or after meds or vits, as the fiber in Metamucil pushes them to quickly through your system and they don't get absorbed properly.

                    Hope this helps.

                    1. A very good mayo substitute is Vegenaise. They have several varieties, but I find the Grapeseed type tastes closest to the real thing. Also, several excellent meatless sausages are made by Field Roast. Both items should be carries by your local Whole Foods or equivalent. Best of luck, once you have done the initial work of examining your diet & tweaking it you'll find that it is not so bad. Much easier than gluten or corn avoidance!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: meatn3

                        My crackpot therapeutic suggestion is that you concentrate less on things that can be scientifically quantified, such as cholesterol counts, substitutions, and overall food-sadness quotients, than on making sure that as much of your diet as possible is prepared by people who love you.

                        1. re: Barry Foy

                          I love this idea, and I'm all for it. fayefood.com

                      2. It will make you feel like a whole new machine to buy olive oil that's so good it's hard to stop thinkin about it, gorgeous, ripe and in season fruit, and it's a great opportunity to try vegetables that may have never hit your plate with nothing but their naked selves, drizzled with the olive oil, just a little sea salt and roasted in the oven. Broccoli is good like this, beets, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, string beans...or just throw any of the above in a pan of water that has a spill of olive oil, a little salt, and braise the vegetables until they are not quite soft (soft for potatoes), drain, and drizzle with your (look the for the really good stuff) olive oil. Or, give a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and toss with a whole, uncut clove(s) of garlicHave a bowl of Irish steel cut oats in the morning, forget all red meat at least to get you going, and search out a fantastic fish monger. Tofu can be excellent seared, with big fat noodles, a splash of sesame oil, a little spill of chicken stock and some raw green onions. Go to a place like Trader Joe's and load up on low cholesterol mixes of nuts and dried fruits, and exotic fresh squeezed juices, avocados, and bags of spicy greens to have on the best bread you can along with say roasted red peppers and roasted chicken breast.
                        Don't forget about beans--cannellini, lentils, borlotti, chic peas--look at books by Rogers and Gray for fantastic bean and vegetable recipes like Italian Country Cooking, Italian Easy, Green, and Italian Two Easy. It's not all low chol. but loads of it is. Good Luck!!! fayefood.com (born with high chol., skinny, and raised vegetarian--you just never know)

                        1. the biggest adjustment needs to be attitude, not diet! don't think of a low-cholesterol diet as deprivation-- whenever possible, think of it as exploring healthy new foods and be sure to reward yourself for your hard work.

                          first, make some additions to your current diet:

                          try eating oatmeal with luscious fresh seasonal fruit and/or real maple syrup for breakfast every day (no dairy or sausage/bacon on the side). if you use cream in coffee/tea, switch to soy. eat a piece of fruit or some veggie sticks dipped in hummus every day as a snack. some people can lower their cholesterol up to 12% by eating a cup of almonds every day, either as a snack or sprinkled on salads etc. buy flaxseed and grind it yourself, sprinkle it on salads and cooked foods. adding almonds & flaxseed to the topping of a homemade fruit crisp is a good excuse to eat crisps for dessert frequently! become a connoisseur of sorbets and dark chocolate as healthy alternatives to buttery baked goods. check out the library for cookbooks and get a subscription to "vegetarian times" for new-to-you fast and delicious recipes-- keep it fresh & exciting, and go at your own pace.

                          then replace some of your highest-cholesterol meals with healthier ones:

                          try a vegan meal once in a while. this can be as simple as spaghetti marinara with garden-fresh basil and chives, but no meat or cheese, or a pb&j sandwich for lunch instead of a ham&swiss. a good vegan cookbook with delicious recipes (i promise) is "the veganomicon" by isa moscowitz & terry hope romero. if there are restaurants in your area with vegan options, give them a try. you don't need to change everything right away, just try a few new things at a time and see if there is anything you like. other good cuisines for dining out are japanese, mediterranean, and seafood restaurants (for fresh fish but not necessarily shellfish). beware some restaurant salads and vegetarian pasta options, as they can often be laden with fatty cheeses and dressings, and you'd be better off with a fish fillet and lightly sauced veggies. at home, eat less meat by halving your current portion before you even put it on your plate, and increasing your portion of colorful veggies (try eating a small fresh salad or a vegetarian soup with dinner, every day if you can). at restaurants, skip cheese & dessert courses & bring your own dark chocolates to enjoy after the meal with espresso.

                          once your cholesterol starts dropping, don't forget to reward yourself. if you *love* steak, stick to a low-cholesterol diet and let yourself have a *really good* steak every 2-3 weeks or so-- you'll look forward to it and enjoy it more. if you *love* fois gras, make it your special birthday treat, at least until your cholesterol #s are lower. it's okay to enjoy special meals with friends and family as a reward for sticking to your diet for the rest of the week. you can do it. :)

                          1. You've gotten a lot of good suggestions here. One product which seems to have proven results is the cholesterol-lowering yogurt made by Dannon and others. My own experience (age-related cholesterol) is that 20 mg. of a statin drug lowered my cholesterol by 15 percent; the anticipated amount. One of those yogurt things every morning, all this in conjunction with a semi-healthy diet of course, lowered it by another 10 percent. For sweets, don't forget apple pie and other fruit pies, the crust made with oil. No cholesterol there--flour, sugar, fruit, water, oil.

                            1. I have high cholesterol as well. Diet and exercise do help! I am on lipitor as well, but hope to be off it within the next few months.

                              I do not eat fatty red meat, I use very little butter (so sad), I eat few eggs. Hey..just do weight watchers. Good food, good recipes, and lots of support. Good luck!

                              1. Do NOT view this as items you cannot eat view it as an opportunity to experiment and enjoy non-cholesterol foods.

                                Here are someof the wonderful items in your future:

                                - Fresh Fish
                                - Chicken
                                - Fruits
                                - Vegetables

                                B'fasts - oatmeal, cereal, fresh fruit, egg white omelettes with veggies
                                Lunches - grilled chicken with lettuce, tomato, vinegars (the vinegar really makes it good)
                                Dinners - grilled fishes, chickens, roasted veggies. Jfood's favorite is slice mushrooms, peppers, onions garlic brussel sprouts. Crank heat to 400. Get a pan really hot, throw some Olive oil in the pan, sear the fish or chicken filet. Flip, add veggies and into the oven until done. Want some olives, pitless Kalamatas are great in this.

                                Then a nice salad with some good dressing and it's a wonderful meal.

                                Dessert in front of the TV is some fresh fruit or fruit bars.

                                Jfood loves this way to eat duringthe week. Does not feel like he overeats and itis very healthy.

                                Enjoy the new challenge.

                                1. Fargo,

                                  Here is a site with a lot of interesting info on high cholesterol:


                                  My DH was diagnosed with High triglycerides years ago, and the dietician gave me a few hints, like; if you are going to eat a somewhat fatty meat, make sure it is cooked over an open flame, then the fat drips off and it isn't nearly as bad. Also, if you want to use ground beef, cook it in the microwave, in a plastic colander, set on top of a bowl. The grease drip off as it cooks, and if it isn't lean enough you can sop up extra grease with a paper towel, then add to whatever you are cooking. Use skim milk, and read labels! Good luck! Oh, one more thing, there is now a prescription for fish oil that works better than lipitor, or any of the statins, and has no side effects. Diet alone isn't enough, but adding certain foods is good.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: danhole

                                    Do you know the name of the prescription fish oil? I'd like to ask my doctor about this. He's open to natural supplements if they're effective. I also like the idea that this works better and has no side effects.

                                    1. re: FoodieKat

                                      It's named Lovaza. Each capsule has 1 gm of Omega 3, and you take 2 caps, twice a day. Only drawback is you might taste the fish oil afterwards. It helps to take with plenty of food. It's what my doctor takes.

                                      1. re: danhole

                                        Oh, that's good to know. Thanks. Think I can get used to the taste if it works.