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I recently had my cholesterol checked and my doctor said that everything is ok except that my LDL is high. I'm confused when I look at the nutritional information on foods. I'm finding a lot of foods that may be low in cholesterol but high in saturated fat OR they are low in saturated fat but high in cholesterol.
When choosing foods to help lower my LDL, is it better to go by the saturated fat or the cholesterol number?
It is always better to use saturated fat as your guide. The amount of cholesterol in the food you eat is important but we now know that it has nowhere near the impact of the types of fat you eat. (Here's more information on cholesterol in food.)
The key is to choose recipes, foods and ingredients that are low in saturated fat. Choose lean meats and eat less red meat. Use butter and fats sparingly and replace them with oils such as olive oil, canola oil, and grapeseed oil. These fats are high in monounsaturated fats and eating more of this type of fat has been shown to have a significant impact on cholesterol profiles. We know that fish that are high in such monounsaturated fats like salmon, tuna, and halibut are great choices as well.
This style of diet is known as the Mediterranean diet. (Here's more information on following a Mediterranean-style diet at home.) Small changes like more monounsaturated fats, less red meat, and more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as in a Mediterranean-style diet, can have a major impact on your cholesterol and risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Thanks for writing,
Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP