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How to Eat to Control Your Cholesterol

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How to Eat to Control Your Cholesterol

Jan 27, 2023

High cholesterol levels can lead to cardiovascular disease, so it’s important to keep your levels low. What you eat can have a big impact on those numbers. But what should (and shouldn’t) you be eating to lower your cholesterol? Nutrition specialist Sharee Thompson shares the steps you should take to lower your LDL and start living a healthier life.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: How to eat to control your cholesterol. Sharee Thompson is a registered dietician nutritionist at University of Utah. Sharee, first of all, when it comes to helping somebody control their cholesterol, what are the important nutritional things to focus on?

Sharee: So I think, initially, we've all thought that cholesterol-rich foods, such as eggs, are what contributed to high cholesterol levels. But what we know now is that it's actually the foods that are high in saturated fats that make an impact on our cholesterol levels.

Interviewer: All right. So is that the primary thing somebody with high cholesterol would want to focus on in their diet then, is just those types of fats?

Sharee: So we want to follow an overall healthy dietary pattern. But primarily, yes, we want to make changes in our fat content, primarily saturated fats and trans fats.

Interviewer: Regular healthy diet is fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, those sorts of things?

Sharee: Yes, whole grains, all of those things.

Interviewer: Okay. So eat that. But then, if you have high cholesterol, look out for . . .

Sharee: So, primarily, saturated fats. And saturated fats come primarily from foods that are in fatty cuts of meat, also high-fat dairy products. We also want to completely avoid trans fats. And these fats are located in foods such as margarines or your stick butters, fried foods, or baked goods.

Interviewer: It sounds like my bucket of movie popcorn . . .

Sharee: Yes, exactly.

Interviewer: . . . isn't necessarily good for my cholesterol.

Sharee: Definitely.

Interviewer: So what is the payoff? What kind of results can a person expect on their cholesterol changes after making these dietary changes?

Sharee: I worked with a woman who came to see me. She was referred by her doctor for high cholesterol. She also had a family history of high cholesterol and heart disease. So she was motivated to make some lifestyle changes. And so, through meeting with her through assessment, we analyzed her diet, took a look at her overall dietary pattern, and her lifestyle, and her food preferences, and all of these things. And we were able to work together to find a plan that would work for her based on her life, because it's all about making changes that the individual is ready and willing to work on.

And so she made some changes, some dietary changes. She also just changed things as simple as preparation methods, cooking her food, replacing some of the oils that she was using, using avocado oil and olive oil. Those are heart-healthy fats. Also, decreasing her high-fat dairy products. You know, we also set some exercise goals. Through all of these changes, she was able to, over time, decrease her cholesterol. And she had also, on top of that, experienced weight loss, higher motivation and energy levels, and just felt better overall.

Interviewer: Wow, that's a pretty incredible story. You said over time. So I'm getting the impression that the changes might not necessarily be in the next week or the next month even.

Sharee: Yes, unfortunately. You know, we all want that, but dietary . . . or changes. When you're talking about changing your cholesterol levels or lab results, it takes time and it takes consistency.

Interviewer: What are some of the common challenges people face when you're working with them on a cholesterol-healthy diet?

Sharee: There's a lot of common ones. Time, a lack of time. We're all busy. Linked to time is also, you know, the time it spends to prep foods and shop. And also it's too costly. One might feel like they are not getting support from family and friends. If you want to and the rest of your family is not on board, that's a major barrier. Also knowledge. Maybe you don't know what changes to make or what to do. Maybe you don't know how to cook.

But I would say that the major challenge that I see overall, kind of the umbrella that is over all of these things, is the all-or-nothing mentality. And I think that a lot of times people try and start too big. They want to change everything in their diet, go to the gym six days a week. When you do that and take too much on, we tend to feel overwhelmed and then defeated, and then we stop. But if we can, you know, make small changes. Like, for cholesterol, maybe the first week, you might start replacing some of your fats. The next week you might incorporate more fruits and veggies and continue to build on that. That's where we see long-term success.

Interviewer: You had mentioned that the woman that saw you a physician had sent. So a physician can prescribe, it sounds like, a visit to a registered dietician. That's something you as a patient could ask for.

Sharee: Definitely.

Interviewer: Does insurance generally cover that then, do you know?

Sharee: Well, a lot of plans cover medical nutrition therapy for certain conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, cholesterol even, and obesity. Definitely, it's something that you'll want to reach out to your insurance carrier and find out if it's covered, how many visits, and also what the specific details are.

updated: January 27, 2023
originally published: March 24, 2020