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How Do You Embrace A Low Cholesterol Diet?

I am SO depressed... My doctor told me I must begin a low cholesterol diet. He told me this once before, and I didn't listen, now my choleserol is too high and I need to listen & take action. I am used to eating whatever I want. I live for and enjoy rich, buttery, creamy, fried, "bad" foods. If you've been in this situation, I would like to know what you did to get into your new diet and stick with it. Now I see what it must be like for those giving up smoking.

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  1. It'll take awhile, but you will get used to eating differently and notice I said differently... There's no reason your new menu has to be bland to be low cholesterol. Avoid obvious high cholesterol offenders like butter, nuts, peanut butter, and stick to lower fat or good fat choices like olive oil and use sparingly.

    About a year ago DH was given the same lecture for the 2nd time from his doc and it went along the lines of "Do you want to see your kids graduate high school? If so you need to do something about your cholesterol and weight NOW." We made a few changes..for him it started with obvious ones like not having a cola and danish for breakfast (he's at work for breakfast or I would have put the brakes on that a long time ago). Its been 13 mo. and DH's cholesterol tested normal and he's dropped from a XXL to a medium thanks mainly to watching what he ate and adding moderate exercise to his daily (3-4 times weekly for 30-45 min) routine. I started a bit later than DH and I've been lax about it in the past but I've lost 43lbs and counting since June 07.

    We have more chicken and fish than red meat now, including things like chicken sausage made by a local guy that comes in about 2 dozen different flavours and is half the fat, cholesterol and lower in calories than the pork/beef versions. Fish and chicken are both prepared simply by baking/broiling/grilling/poaching them.

    Chicken stock has replaced the butter in our mashed potatoes so the calories and fat are almost the same as plain ol' boiled potatoes but they're still creamy and flavourful. Do they taste exactly like the butter rich version? No but I think they're still delicious.

    We have upped the number of vegetables on our plate a lunch and dinner. Usually in warmer weather and for convenience we serve them raw with dip. Dip is often hummus or tzatziki - 30 cals/5mg cholesterol/2g fat per TWO tablespoons versus regular ranch dip which is 70 calories/15mg cholesterol/8g fat for only ONE tablespoon. Making small changes like this can make a big difference over the long run.

    There are quite a few threads on the Home Cooking Board regarding low fat/low cholesterol dishes. I also like myrecipes.com which houses Cooking Light magazine's recipes(among others so be sure to filter the results). Cooking Light is sometimes not as light as to qualify as low cholesterol so be sure to read the nutritional info.

    I also can't say enough about calorie-count.com. It sounds like a lot of work, and at first it is... but once you get in the habit, logging your food will help you (and your doc if you choose to share the info with him) get an idea of when, what, and how much you're eating and how to makeover the foods you enjoy so they fit with the low cholesterol requirement.

    Check out juliewashere.blogspot.com Julie is a local (to Calgary AB Canada) cookbook author and foodie who lost 165lbs cooking low fat (and consequently lower cholesterol). She has authored two wonderful cookbooks Grazing and One Smart Cookie both of which makeover traditional recipes and cut the fat/butter used. Her blogs are inspirational, as are the recipes.

    Try and look at this as a new way of approaching food rather than a prison sentence. Change won't happen overnight and it will require a commitment from other family members to support the change but it can be done.

    If you want to reach me for more info/questions email ericabellis@hotmail.com :)

    1. Welcome to my life. I stuck to the "diet "because I was aware I was digging my grave with a spoon. It is hard, but becomes easier. The first thing is to realize this is not a diet. It is a way of life. Second, you allow yourself to eat anything you want. But not all the time. If you want french fries, have them. But not the whole plate and not again for weeks.

      Portions are important. Use smaller plates it looks like you have more food. Spicy food is vital. Use lots of herbs and spices, if it tastes good you will stick to the good stuff. I eat all day long, an orange, some nuts, a little half sandwich. Whatever keeps you from becoming really hungry and eating junk food. I made lots of different salsas and put them on chicken, pork, shrimp, sandwiches. Learn to oven fry meats and French Fries. Things will be crispy, you use a little olive oil so not a bad oil like frying in crisco.

      If your medical plan has it, take a couple of Cholesterol classes. I have Kaiser and they offer all kinds of classes to explain how to stick to it.

      Having rich food and not use cream and butter all the time is possible. I refuse to use fake butter, but will use egg beaters. I will use no fat sour cream, some brands aren't bad, low fat cream cheese is OK. Cheese, I do without rather than the awful lowfat stuff.

      Try all the awful healthy no fat/low fat salad dressing, mayos, etc. Some are awful, some can be fixed. Buy the low fat ranch dressing and then add some hidden Valley dried dressing mix. That will perk it up and adds no bad things.

      I have found some lean cuisine is edible. Read the back and a lot of them are low cholesterol.

      And that last sentence is very important. READ. Add 30 minutes to your shopping time and read every can, box, bottle, item you pick up. Low fat does not mean low Cholesterol, "Healthy " product sometimes have more cholesterol than the normal food. I found turkey bacon was worse than pork bacon.

      Soups are very filling and can be very tasty without a cream base.

      A couple of cook books I use are Lean And Luscious and More Lean and Luscious. The food taste good and my husband ( no health issues ) finds it just as good as unhealthy food.

      And the exercise is really worth it. I hate it, but I can eat more and sometimes have the fried pork chop with milk gravy.

      Take it slow and don't worry about doing this for the next 30 years. You just have to get through the next 30 minutes. And you can stand anything for 30 minutes.

      1. It's really not too hard. Maplesugar and Janet have really got it down pat. You will learn a lot of tricks. In my case it helps big time to have a wife that is a great cook, and learned how to cook healthy. Sit and watch some of the cooking shows, and you will realize even an untrained cook can make most things taste great if they add cream and butter. It will kill you. Eat healthy, you won't be sorry.
        Try to Enjoy,

        1. Like these good folks said - you find new delicious ways of eating which will put you back on your dr.'s good side. ;) when we started weight watchers last year I thought my eating life was over - turns out it's just as good, if not better. I've learned to eat so many things I never even tried before! Look on it as a challenge, an adventure! Not a diet. A lifestyle because you want to be around for many, many more years. trust me. My father was only 48 when he died of heart disease. his cholesterol was over 300 (there were other factors). it can and does happen!

          oh - and those commercials about oatmeal - it really does help. I eat it about 4x a week for breakfast and my chol is very good now!

          good luck and be well!

          1. maplesugar writes: "Avoid obvious high cholesterol offenders like butter, nuts, peanut butter, and stick to lower fat or good fat choices like olive oil and use sparingly. "

            I must point out that the nuts and peanut butter are relatively high fat foods and contain zero cholesterol. Animal foods contain cholesterol; beef, eggs, cheese, lamb, etc. Plants contain no cholesterol. Therefore peanut butter is a cholesterol-free food. High fat, yes. Cholesterol, no.

            A quick primer: there are two main types of cholesterol, serum (blood) and dietary (found in food). Our bodies make the majority of our cholesterol. The "bad" cholesterol is LDL or low-density lipoprotein and HDL, high-density lipoprotein is the "good" cholesterol. Diet and lifestyle can certainly change cholesterol numbers - both up and down. Choosing your ancestors well is another good bet!

            High-fiber, plant-based, low-fat diets have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol numbers, add activity to this and raise HDL numbers (a good thing). You'll want the LDL number to decrease and the HDL number to increase.

            Saturated fat, whether from animals or hydrogenated products, plays a role in cholesterol accumulation in humans. A session with a Registered Dietician might shed some light on this topic but be assured that it is absolutely possible to eat very well while reducing both cholesterol and weight. Some years ago the Chefs Collaborative had a program called "Rethinking the Center of the Plate" that dealt with reducing meat portion sizes while accentuating healthy - and delicious - accompaniments.

            maplesugar gives a lot of very helpful pointers as well as real-life experience. The best part is the success she reports. Yes, it can be done. If you look on it as a challenge rather than a burden, you may find this to be an exciting new chapter in chowhounding. One very easy place to begin is with peasant cuisines around the world. These are often quite low in animal fat and have multiple options for interesting plant-based dishes. The foods from the Mediterranean region gets a lot of play in this regard.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Sherri

              Certainly nuts are low/free of cholesterol but they are significantly higher in fat than protein. Our doctor gave us info when DH had to lower his cholesterol and nuts were on the "foods to avoid" list.

              Certainly some nuts are good, but only in small amounts and only those not containing saturated fats. Nuts with mono or poly unsaturated (good) fats are: almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans walnuts and hazelnuts.

              When an individual is looking at losing 15lbs over three months, eating foods that are high in calories like cashews for instance:
              Calories in Cashew Nuts, Dry Roasted
              With Salt Added

              Serving Size 1 oz (28.3 g)...which is less than 1/4 cup(34g)

              Amount Per Serving

              Calories 162 Calories from Fat 118 (% Daily Value*)
              Total Fat 13.1g (20%)
              Saturated Fat 2.6g (13%)
              Polyunsaturated Fat 2.2g
              Monounsaturated Fat 7.7g
              Cholesterol 0mg (0%)
              Sodium 181mg (8%)
              Total Carbohydrates 9.3g (3%)
              Dietary Fiber 0.8g (3%)
              Sugars 1.4g
              Protein 4.3g

              * Based on a 2000 calorie diet

              I know from experience when my daily intake leans toward high cal high fat foods at the end of that day when I've used up my alotted calories I find I'm still quite hungry...ravenous even... I'm prone to a late night raid on the fridge, and I'm not snacking on carrot sticks at that point...

              1. re: maplesugar

                So glad that we're on the same page. When you wrote:
                "Avoid obvious high cholesterol offenders like butter, nuts, peanut butter, and stick to lower fat or good fat choices like olive oil and use sparingly. "
                I figured there would be a problem. Many, many people - physicians included - group high-cholesterol and high-fat food under the same umbrella. Granted, many foods, like your example of butter, are in both camps but plants are exempt from the high cholesterol label. Avocadoes are high-fat foods but contain no cholesterol. It is the same for nuts and peanut butter.

                I once sat next to a prominent physician, a cardiologist in Los Angeles, who was so proud of himself for driving across town (in LA no less!) to a specific health food store to buy "No-Cholesterol Peanut Butter". When I told him that peanut butter does not contain cholesterol he gave me The Death Stare of disbelief. He challenged my information, and after a brief discussion, we turned to our other dinner partners for the rest of the evening.

                First thing Monday morning, he called to apologize, stating that he was stunned to learn that plants, including peanut butter, do not contain cholesterol. He'd never learned this simple fact at Medical School since nutrition was an elective class and he did not attend. I was also pleased to hear that he was hiring a Registered Dietician for his practice to give patients sound dietary information.

                Congrats on your success with your diet changes. Sounds like you found a plan that really works for you.

                1. re: Sherri

                  Thanks Sherri, I think we're pretty much on the same page.

                  One more thing about nuts though...they do contain a small amount of saturated fat, which some info (heartandstrokefoundation.org) suggest saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels. Nuts have their place(they're a weakness for me heh) but I still feel they should be used sparingly.

            2. Without getting into the whole cholesterol debate, all I'm going to say is that your tastebuds will acclimate to less rich foods. I've seen people get very upset when they had to give up salts, red meat, etc. for health reasons. Within two weeks, they said they were fine and got used to it. So don't fret -- there's a lot of great fish and chicken dishes out there. And you will get used to not having as much rich, buttery, creamy foods. Take this as an opportunity to expand your cooking repertoire and try different types of food.

              I will say that I haven't smoked in over a decade (former 2 packs a day). I'm used to it but still crave it once in a while.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Miss Needle

                Really simple: if you don't exercise, start doing it 3 days a week for 30 minutes a day, limit fried foods to 2 times a week, don't eat as much buttery creamy stuff as you use to.

                Enjoy what you like, just not as often as you use to.

                Also, drugs like Lipitor or Zocor work really well reducing cholesterol (great if you don't have any liver problems and can tolerate the drugs)

              2. Thanks for all of the inspiring comments. So far so good... In 3 mos I will report back on what I did (& hopefully not what I didn't do!).

                1 Reply
                1. re: michele cindy

                  One final thought. Do not beat yourself up if you slip and eat "bad for You" food. That is just one meal. Enjoy the bad stuff and the next day be twice as good.

                  Good luck. I lowered my cholesterol and lost 50 puonds. Just 30 minutes at a time.

                2. I am in the same boat. I've slipped this week with pasta..not whole grain as I usually cook. ooops. I gag down oatmeal 3x a week for breakfast, I eat only very lean red meat when I eat it, and cut way back on the butter, eggs, bad fat. After I gag down the oatmeal, I get on the treadmill 3 x a week...and I park further away from the front door when I go shopping..and I take the stairs. Shrimp has tons of cholesterol..so I don't eat that anymore. Best of luck to you.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: melly

                    Melly, you will be pleased to know that there is a vast difference in the cholesterol count of wild VS farmed shrimp, with wild being much lower. Hope this makes your day happier and shrimpier.

                    1. Cholesterol is from animal products, so consider exploring vegan restaurants and cookbooks and gradually increase the number of vegan meals you eat. Raw, unsalted almonds are suggested as a snack to help one lower cholesterol.

                      1. Hello,

                        I'm diabetic, and I take my diet very seriously. Following the advice of various doctors and dieticians over the years (along with the diet advice from the American/Canadian Diabetes Associations, and the AMA/CMA), my blood sugar remained stubbornly high, despite taking two different diabetes medications (9 pills/day) and a statin to lower cholesterol. I started doing my own research, and found that the advice I was getting was seriously wrong. I went on a low-carb diet - which, at the time, the ADA actively despised - and found within a few months my blood sugar was near normal, my total serum cholesterol was down while my HDL/LDL ratio had improved, my triglycerides were down, etc. Ironically, a few months ago, the ADA grudgingly admitted that low carb diets might be effective in controlling blood sugars. I'm still waiting for the AMA to admit that low carb diets are more effective at controlling cholesterol than low-fat diets.

                        Here are some links you might want to examine:


                        Now, let me be clear: changing to a low-carb diet can be as difficult as changing to a low fat diet. Sure, having bacon and eggs every morning, and steaks and chops (and fish) for dinner most nights sounds great, but remember - no bread, no potatoes, no rice, no pasta. It's easy to find low-fat ice cream or ice cream substitutes; low-carb ones are more difficult. No cakes, no cookies, no crackers (well, actually, I've found some low carb ones, but it took some searching!). There is a surprising correspondence between low-fat and low-carb diets - lots of green, leafy vegetables, lots of salads, many bean/lentil/legume dishes (but not baked beans - too much sugar!), and many soups.

                        I urge you to check out these links and do further research on your own on the benefits of low-carb diets. I sincerely believe this diet has brought me back from the risk of the serious health problems associated with diabetes - blindness, amputation, and heart attack. I've lost weight - I weigh less now than when I got married 20 years ago - I've got more energy, and I look better. My biggest problem - none of my pants fit anymore (if I breathe in too much, they have literally fallen to my ankles at times!), and I've had to get new holes punched in all my belts.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: KevinB

                          KevinB-Thanks for all the info - very informative and encouraging!

                        2. Reporting back-I took a bit of everyone's advice. I lowered my LDL 36 pts to 115, Increased the HDL by 4 to 56, and improved the TRY to 101. It's been hard, but not too, I cut out red meat, pork (bacon), and egg yolks. I didn't cut out high fat cheese, and the occaisional Dorito. I don't cook with butter at home anymore. I now use only olive oil, peanut oil or Smart Balance. + I did a bit more exercise. Next stop is lowering my daily fat content and calories. One step at a time. Thank you for everyone's advice!
                          P.S. I must confess we went on a weekend trip, after I took my test, and on vacation, I ate burgers, hotdogs, eggs, butter, and bacon. It was great - now I'm back to work. If you can, you really need to do that every once in awhile. Thanks again!!! MC

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: michele cindy

                            FANTASTIC news MC. Keep up the good work. Six years ago jfood's LDL was almost 180 and it hovers at 100 now, and he peaked at 200 on TRY and now steady at 100. Moderation, moderation, moderation, some exercise and cook well.

                            Keep it up

                            1. re: jfood

                              Thank you Jfood. Your great posts do entice me to stray now and then!

                              1. re: michele cindy

                                Good job! For your next step, get thee a vegetable cookbook, and use spices and fresh herbs. Highly flavorful, low fat food can be very satisfying if you learn to cook it right.

                                1. re: tmso

                                  Thanks everyone. tmso, any books come to mind? My husband is a vegetarian, so we'll all be happy. But like melly below - I too could use a good rib eye! I'll get one after my next report, as long as it keeps improving. moderation...

                                  1. re: michele cindy

                                    My husband and I are long-time vegans (30+ and 15+ years). Our cookbook collection includes:
                                    Simply Vegan by Debra Wasserman
                                    The Vegan Epicure by Hermine Freed
                                    Sinfully Vegan by Lois Dieterly
                                    My Sweet Vegan by Hannah Kaminsky
                                    Spicy Vegan by Sudha Raina
                                    The Gluten-Free Vegan by Susan O'Brien
                                    The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein
                                    Everyday Vegan by Jeani-Rose Atchinson

                                    among others.
                                    Tonight I made sauteed onions, mushrooms, spaceship squash (!), zucchini, and a homegrown cayenne pepper over (gluten-free) pasta and kidney beans. Yum!

                                    Have you tried the oat bran/blueberry muffins adapted from the 8-week cholesterol cure? A client likes them. They're quick and easy.

                                2. re: michele cindy

                                  Thanks for reporting back. I lowered my bad cholesteral too..and raised my good! I do miss a good ribeye though.