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Ask the Dietitian: Some daily tips for reducing cholesterol

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 17, 2002

Question: When a person finds out that he has high cholesterol, the first thing a doctor wants to do is put him on a drug program to lower the readings. That often means avoiding foods high in fat and cholesterol. Please tell your readers what foods we should be eating on a daily basis. H.A.

Answer: The National Cholesterol Education Program, a division of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, released new guidelines for a healthy heart last May. Some of the recommendations include limiting calories from saturated fat to less than 7 percent, limiting daily cholesterol intake to no more than 200 mg, eating foods rich in soluble fiber, and increasing physical activity to 30 minutes a day. If weight loss, dietary changes and exercise don't work, then it's time for medication.

The average American plate needs to include more grains and vegetables and less meat. Start slowly by adding more vegetables to your diet and eating smaller portions of meat. Your plate should be a rainbow of colors with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans composing two-thirds of the plate and animal protein one-third.

A healthy diet should include the following:

Protein foods: The 200mg of cholesterol translates into about 6 ounces of meat per day. The seven cuts of beef that meet the USDA labeling guidelines for lean include top round, eye round, round tip, top sirloin, bottom round, top loin and tenderloin.

Other lean meats include chicken breast and thigh, turkey, pork loin (chops and roasts) and pork tenderloin. Strive to eat only 6 ounces a day.

The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish per week. Including fish in your diet can help reduce the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease due to the omega 3 fatty acids they contain. Omega 3's protect against heart disease by boosting good HDL cholesterol and lowering triglycerides and blood pressure.

Fish is the best dietary source of omega 3 fatty acids. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, swordfish and tuna are rich in omega 3's. Inexpensive sources of these fats are canned salmon, tuna and sardines.

Alternative protein sources include legumes, soy products, nuts and seeds. Legumes is another name for beans, peas and lentils. All are good sources of fiber, protein, iron and calcium. Nuts and nut butters (almond and cashew butter) are great tasting and versatile. One-third cup of nuts is equal to 1 ounce of cooked lean meat.

Dairy products. Drink skim or low-fat milk and use low-fat cheeses. If using cream substitutes, read the label to make sure that they don't contain tropical oils such as palm. Dairy products contain a lot of calcium. If you don't eat dairy then try greens. Green leafy vegetables are loaded with calcium.

Grains. Grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, plant proteins and fiber. Grains provide a feeling of fullness, so you can eat less but feel more full.

Grain foods include oatmeal, oat bran, shredded wheat, whole grain breads, brown rice, bulgur and barley. A grain serving is a slice of bread, 1/2 cup of cooked rice or noodles, six saltine crackers or a 6-inch tortilla. You should eat from six to 11 servings per day.

Fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins C and E, beta carotene and an abundance of phytochemicals.

Variety and color are what your plate needs. You should eat at least three or more servings of fruits and three or more servings of vegetables each day.

Orange vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots and butternut squash are rich in beta carotene.

Instead of eating one serving of vegetables at a meal, try two. Keep your vegetables tasty and healthy by microwaving, baking, steaming or stir frying with a small amount of oil. Use herbs and spices, or sprinkle with chopped nuts or Parmesan cheese to add flavor. Keep fruit on hand for snacks and desserts.

Other tips for a healthy diet include reading labels and avoiding foods that contain cocoa butter, coconut and palm oils, lard or hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Web sites of interest:

National Cholesterol Education Program:

Food Pyramid:

- Dietitian Stephanie Tober welcomes your questions about nutrition and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Sorry, she can't take calls or answer individual requests. Send questions in care of Taste, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at

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