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How can I improve my cholesterol scores without medication?
The most important consideration is your cholesterol profile. Occasionally I will have a patient who has been put on medication for a high cholesterol score, but their low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol isn't putting them at high risk when other risk factors are taken into consideration. Family history, smoking, diabetes and hypertension play a role in evaluating such risk.
Should I be Concerned About Cholesterol in Food?
This can be a confusing issue because your cholesterol is high and the first thought is to eat less cholesterol. Researchers used to think that eating about 300 mg of cholesterol per day was the key to lowering cholesterol. While it is important to be careful, we understand a lot more about this now.
Low-Cholesterol / Low-Fat Diet
The idea of a low-fat diet came about as the result of faulty science in the 1980s. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I do believe that researchers at the time were working from the best information they had available to them.
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Canadian researchers assessed the cholesterol levels of 55 men and women over the course of one year of a recommended low-fat diet designed to combine various foods known for their cholesterol-lowering effects (Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83(3):582–91). This diet included fiber, soy protein, legumes, Take Control or Flora Pro-activ margarine, almonds, monounsaturated fat oils such as olive or canola oil, low- or fat-free dairy foods, egg substitutes in the place of whole eggs, and less than three servings of meat, including poultry, fish, or red meats.
Twenty-nine of the subjects had previously participated in one-month studies designed to assess their response to cholesterol-lowering medications. The results? For those who best stuck with the diet, their LDL cholesterol levels (the bad guys) decreased about 20%, which is comparable to their results on medication. Even the averagely-compliant participants decreased their LDL cholesterol by about 13%, with small increases in HDL cholesterol (the bad guys). Drawbacks of this study: researchers were partially funded by the Almond Board of California and Unilever, maker of Take Control margarine. While I think that both products are great (I use Take Control margarine in some of my recipes), this and the small size of the study are something to bear in mind.
More proof that diet can have a big impact on your health. If you’re watching your cholesterol, a healthy, low-fat diet that includes fiber, soy protein, legumes and substituting olive or canola oil for butter in cooking is another tool in your arsenal against heart disease. Use it!
First posted: April18, 2006