10 Easy Food Swaps Cut Cholesterol, Not Taste

Holiday weekends are not necessarily the easiest time to cut unhealthy and saturated fats. But, according to this practical article from Health.com, it couldn’t be easier to cut cholesterol without cutting taste. Many of my patients are afraid that any meals that are “good for my cholesterol” are meals that are joyless (and tasteless). However, a low-cholesterol diet doesn’t have to be all oat bran and tofu. If you want to know more, here are some simple substitutions that you can make to the food you already eat to help fight cholesterol painlessly.

1) Sprinkle walnuts, skip croutons

Carbohydrates can cause high levels of a type of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol. For a healthier salad, replace your carbo-laden croutons with walnuts, which are high in polyunsaturated fat—a good fat that can lower LDL while boosting HDL (aka good cholesterol).

2) Yes to edamame and nuts, no to cheese and crackers

For a predinner snack, skip the crackers and cheese, which are sky-high in saturated fat—one of the prime culprits behind high cholesterol. Instead, put out some almonds, which have been shown to lower LDL, and edamame, the boiled baby soybeans that are a common appetite whetter in Japanese restaurants. Edamame is low in saturated fat and one cup contains about 25 grams of soy protein, which is thought to actively lower LDL (although the evidence is conflicting). Buy them frozen, dump them into boiling water, and drain after 5 minutes: That’s all there is to it.

3) Vinegar and lemon juice beats salad dressing

As everyone knows by now, drenching a salad in high-fat salad dressing is like smoking cigarettes while jogging: It totally defeats the purpose. A low-fat alternative—such as our shallot and grapefruit dressing—is a step in the right direction, but the best option for lower cholesterol is drizzling your salad with balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.

4) Ditch the butter for margarine spread

One tablespoon of butter contains more than 7 grams of saturated fat—that’s more than a third of the recommended daily value. It also contains 10% of your daily value for dietary cholesterol, which, though it isn’t as harmful as was once thought, is one of the main sources of high cholesterol (and atherosclerosis). Switch the butter with a vegetable-oil-based spread such as Smart Balance or Olivio (which also contains olive oil); you’ll be replacing a bad fat with a good fat. And instead of using butter to grease the pan while cooking, try olive oil or white wine vinegar.

5) Use ground turkey, not ground beef

Red meat is a source of both saturated fat and dietary cholesterol—two of the main sources of blood cholesterol. Ground turkey contains half the saturated fat of 85% lean ground beef, and it can be substituted easily for beef in most recipes.

6) Quinoa is a tasty alternative to rice

“I’m keen, you’re keen, we’re all keen on quinoa!” People with high cholesterol will be singing this tune once they realize the benefits of quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”), a South American seed that serves as a tasty and healthful stand-in for rice or couscous. One cup of cooked quinoa has 15% fewer carbohydrates and 60% more protein than a comparable amount of brown rice; it also has 25% more fiber, which can help lower blood cholesterol.

7) Chicken is OK, fish is better

While they have less saturated fat than red meat, turkey and chicken aren’t entirely without cholesterol. One of the best strategies for reducing cholesterol through diet is eating more fish, which is very low in fat and contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

8) Munch on popcorn, not tortilla chips

Tortilla chips are often considered a healthy alternative to potato chips. They are certainly healthier, but an even better snack is homemade air-popped popcorn, which has 80% less saturated fat than tortilla chips and more than twice the fiber.

9) Skip the fatty sour cream, choose fat-free Greek yogurt

Whether it’s used as a garnish or in a sauce, sour cream adds a shot of saturated fat to otherwise heart-healthy meals. To cut out that excess fat without sacrificing taste or texture, swap the sour cream with no-fat Greek yogurt—one of the world’s healthiest foods. Just about any recipe that calls for sour cream can be made with Greek yogurt instead.

10) Sip red wine, not cocktails

Research suggests that moderate alcohol intake can produce a slight rise in HDL cholesterol (a so-called good cholesterol). But that won’t do you much good if you’re tossing back margaritas or mixed drinks with fruit juice, which contain carbohydrates. Switch to red wine; it has about a tenth of the carbohydrates of a margarita, and you’ll also get antioxidants such as flavonoids that are believed to lower LDL and boost HDL. Given the risks of alcohol, however, the American Heart Association recommends that you limit your daily intake to two glasses (for men) or one glass (for women).

So, here’s to some tasty swaps that are also highly healthy.

2 thoughts on “10 Easy Food Swaps Cut Cholesterol, Not Taste

  • Debbie

    These are great tips, Dr. Walt! We had incorporated several into our diet already… This article serves as a prod to make ALL of the above routine in our eating habits. Might I add to the list of low-cholesterol meats . . . lean bison? We eat this a lot,and according to sources I’ve read, it is lower in cholesterol than even turkey or fish. . . right?

  • Good point about bison, Deb. It’s considered a red meat that is very lean and a great substitute for beef and turkey — but not necessarily chicken.

    According to Nutrition Data, a three ounce serving of cooked ground bison is worth 152 calories and 7 grams of fat.

    By comparison, a three ounce serving of 70% lean ground beef contains 232 calories and 15 grams of fat. You have to buy 95% lean ground beef to have as good a quality meat as buffalo — and I think the bison is tastier than the very lean beef.

    But, as to turkey and chicken, here are the facts from Nutrition Data:

    A three ounce serving of cooked white turkey meat, without the skin, has 198 calories and 12 grams of fat — making a similar sized chunk of bison a bit more healthful.

    However, a three ounce serving of chicken (broilers or fryers, breast meat only, cooked, rotisserie, original seasoning, without the skin) has 123 calories and 3 grams of fat.

    However, switch to dark chicken meat (cooked, rotisserie, without the skin) and you jump to 171 calories and 9 grams of fat for a three ounce serving.

    But, all can be part of a healthful diet.

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