4 Tips for Eating Well with High Cholesterol

Diabetes, High Cholesterol, and Diet

Written by Kamiah A. Walker
Reviewed by Jodi Godfrey, MS, RD

Here’s some good news:  it doesn’t take a huge effort to start making heart-healthy food decisions.  Especially when you have diabetes and high cholesterol, watching your diet is critical.

There are changes you can make to what you eat every day.  We recommend that you talk to a certified diabetes educator or registered dietitian about changing how you eat.  They can work with you to create a meal plan that is delicious, flexible (you won’t always be eating the same thing), and healthy—for both your heart and your diabetes.

In the meantime, here are 4 tips to help you eat well when you have high cholesterol.

1. Trade Processed (Refined) Grains for Whole Grains

Since the body treats white rice, and baked goods, bread, and pasta made with white flour just as it does sugar, these foods are best replaced with a similar whole grain option. What's missing from white rice and white flour is the dietary fiber, which helps to slow down food digestion and thus, keeps your blood sugar from rising quickly. Foods with dietary fiber have the added benefit of helping you to feel longer.  

There's another compelling reason to avoid processed grains: they may be the reason for your high blood cholesterol, specifically high triglycerides. By cutting out processed, refined grains, including chips, crackers, and sugar cereals.

These days, there are many versions of pasta and bread made with fiber-rich whole wheat flour and other whole grains such as spelt, barley, and oats. Better yet, there are now pastas made with chickpea flour, black bean flour, or lentil flour. All of these pasta products have the same texture and taste as you might expect from the common white pasta, but they are a great source of plant protein as well as fiber making them an easy and acceptable alternative for anyone looking to either avoid wheat and/or choose diabetes-friendlier foods.

The next time you’re shopping, try any pasta in place of the regular white pasta. Oats can be made into flour and offers a more heart-healthy option for baking; try making an oat flour Belgian waffle. Another option is almond flour, which is great as a base for preparing baked goods that deliver on protein and dietary fiber minus the sugar surge. You won't ever look back!

Also, try replacing white rice with black, wild, brown, or mixed grain rice.  Another favorite, if you haven't tried it yet is quinoa—a high protein grain—which cooks in five minutes, as well as whole grain couscous, which are great substitutes for white rice.

2. Add More Fruits and Vegetables—Incorporate into Every Meal

We know you’ve heard it before but bears repeating: you can probably benefit from increasing the amount of fruit and vegetable servings you eat daily.  All the dietary fiber in fruits and vegetables can help lower your blood cholesterol, increase your sense of fullness, and reduces the risks for many types of cancer, too. So try to build your meals around the fruits and vegetables, aiming for at least five but really 9 servings are needed—yes NINE—servings daily,1 according to the United States Department of Agriculture: Dietary  Guidelines for Americans.

So you realize that you are not getting nearly enough fruits or vegetables, and want to boost your intake. To begin, always plan your meal by starting with the fruit or vegetable(s) and build from there. Do you feel like having cranberries? Then maybe goal with oatmeal. If you want eggs for breakfast, pull out the vegetables you have in the fridge, chop them up and make a frittata or prepare your eggs your way and have some stir-fried or roasted veggies on the side. 

Here are some other ways to boost your produce intake:

3. Preparation Methods Matter So Cook with Olive Oil or Avocado Oil

Instead of cooking with those generic vegetable oils (corn, canola), switch to using olive oil, sunflower oil, and avocado oil, which contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.  When choosing added facts in your cooking, the goal is to avoid butter, which is high in saturated fat, and to avoid products made with trans fats or partially hydronated fatty acids( ie, stick margarine).

The way you prepare foods matters a lot.  For example, fried foods have been linked to both high cholesterol and cancer, so while French fries are hard to pass up. You can make quite acceptable baked fries, or you can treat yourself to an air fryer, which will give you the satisfying crunch of fried foods without the negative health effects.

Baking, stir-frying (this is ok because it is a quick cooking method so the foods don't absorb the fats as they are during deep frying), roasting, and steaming are all great ways to prepare your vegetables, tofu, and meats.

4. Don't Confuse High Cholesterol Foods with High Blood Cholesterol 

Science has evolved so that we now know that foods that are high in dietary cholesterol, like egg yolk, do not cause our blood cholesterol to rise. In fact, several recent studies have disproven the age-old belief that eggs should be avoided if you have high blood cholesterol.2-4

Better yet, eggs are back in the news. It seems that eating eggs may even be a healthy option.  In a review of the research,2 your heart disease risk isn't likely to be any better if you choose an egg substitute over whole eggs. In fact, the risk for heart disease or high blood cholesterol levels did not occur in people who consumed three eggs daily for three months.3  Another interesting finding concerns having a breakfast comprised of two eggs, which seems to reduce the amount of adiposity, or belly fat, as compared to individuals who eat a bread-based morning meal like a bagel.1

Actually, its foods high in saturated fats, particularly prepared and processed products, butter, the skin and fat from poultry (eg, chicken, turkey, duck) and beef that causes a rise in the LDL—or so-called bad cholesterol.

When you’re at the grocery store, make it a point to read the food label of every packaged food before you put it in the cart.  Choose foods that are low cholesterol—or even no cholesterol!  The Nutrition Facts label will be incredibly helpful to you as you learn what foods are high cholesterol or high fat.

You can also limit your dietary cholesterol (how much cholesterol you get from what you eat) by cutting back on egg yolks (use egg substitute or just egg whites) and high-fat meats and poultry.

Embrace A Heart Healthy, Diabetes Diet

You may have negative associations with the word “diet”—thinking that it means you can never have anything flavorful again and that you’ll be eating bland (but healthy!) food for the rest of your life, just because you want to take care of your heart and blood glucose levels.

This doesn't have to be the case. The simple definition for diet is "the foods we eat." It has earned a negative connotation because so many people have strayed from eating wisely so much attention has been paid to going on a "diet" to mean eating to lose weight. 

However, you can reframe the word to accept it's original meaning—to the focus has been on eating better. Eating well when you have diabetes and high blood cholesterol (diabetic hyperlipidemia) doesn’t have to be a dull affair.  You may choose to make some adjustments to the way you prepare meals like swapping whole grains for white flour, adding more fruits and vegetables, using healthy oils, and finding a way to put a little creativity into your cooking. These changes will help you prepare delicious meals that you, your family and friends can enjoy and that will assure that you are keeping your heart healthy!

Sources

  1. US Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/. Accessed January 16, 2019.
  2. Clayton ZS, Fusco E, Kern M. Egg consumption and heart health: A review. Nutrition. 2017; 37:79-85.
  3. Knopp RH, Retzlaff B, Fish B, et al. Effects of insulin resistance and obesity on lipoproteins and sensitivity to egg feeding. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2003;23:1437-1443.
  4. DiMarco DM, Missimer A, Murillo AG.. Intake of up to 3 Eggs/Day Increases HDL Cholesterol and Plasma Choline While Plasma Trimethylamine-N-oxide is Unchanged in a Healthy Population. Lipids. 2017;52(3):255-263. 

Other Sources