- Eat oatmeal. Whole grains in general are good, but oats are particularly helpful because of the soluble fiber beta-glucan, which absorbs cholesterol very effectively. I like to add dried fruit, cinnamon and just a small amount of brown sugar as it cooks. To eat, I top with vanilla soy milk and sometimes pure maple syrup.
- Flax seeds have the good kind of fat, omega 3 fatty acids, which help fight cholesterol and plaque buildup in the arteries. For the most benefits, you want to use whole flaxseeds, not the oil, which loses its potency quickly. The seeds have a nutty flavor, and you can sprinkle them on oatmeal, cereal or salads. You can also substitute 1 TBSP milled flaxseed mixed with 3 TBSP water for one egg in baked goods.
- Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. They have two aspects that interfere with the absorption of cholesterol--plant sterols and soluble fiber. I am a little crazy on this one, according to my kids. I look at every recipe or eating opportunity to see where the fruits and veggies can be added. We make fruit smoothies a lot in the mornings, and we often make them green with spinach or kale. In fact, there aren’t many dishes to which I won’t add a little spinach at the end. I add it to soups, pasta sauces, salads, casseroles, risotto, and whatever else I can think of. I always have bell peppers, onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms and spinach on hand to add to whatever I am making.
- Some particularly good fruits and veggies: garlic, apples, beans, soy proteins.
- Get some exercise everyday. A daily walk is important, but staying active in other ways is important, too. Don’t sit for long periods. If you work in an office, try to stand up and move for just a few minutes at least once per hour. Try to do as many chores while standing as you can (standing at a counter to chop veggies, vs. sitting at a table, for instance). Park far away from the door at the store. Run errands on foot if possible. Get a good pedometer, and try to work up to 10,000 steps per day.
- Avoid saturated fat, especially partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Limit red meat, and when you do eat it, trim the fat or get leaner cuts.
- Avoid processed grains. Whole grains are higher in fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol absorption in the body.
- Eat a lower carbohydrate diet. I am not a fan of the super low carb, Atkins type diets, but limiting the amount of carbs that you eat is helpful, and getting most of your carbs from whole foods is ideal. Recent studies show a correlation between a diet high in simple carbs and LDL cholesterol levels (LDL is the bad kind of cholesterol). The fiber in whole grains, fruits and vegetables are beneficial in lowering LDL levels.
- Eat fish regularly, especially salmon.
- Red wine and dark chocolate seem to be good for cholesterol levels, too, in moderation. I heard on the radio the other day that drinking a glass of red wine with a meal that follows the Mediterranean diet (whole grains, high vegetable content, moderate meats and eggs, nuts and beans, low saturated fat) actually results in your stomach creating antioxidants--a case of one plus one equaling three.
Fitting these things into a busy life
- Plan. I try to make a menu plan every week. This does take some time, but the more I do it, the faster I get. If I know what I am going to cook for dinner when I walk in the door from work, I get right to cooking. Also, making the menu plan and then a grocery list means that I rarely find myself with a bunch of meal ideas with missing ingredients at dinner time.
- Prepare foods ahead. This can mean spending an hour or two on Sunday making up some oatmeal and a veggie soup or slaw, or it can just mean doing a little extra prep work while you are making your regular dinner. If I have a recipe that calls for a chopped onion, I might chop another while I am at it and put it in the fridge for the next night. Chopped bell pepper leads to a sliced pepper for after school snacks. Or, I might make a double batch of dinner, and freeze half of it for a night when we are busy.
- To get more veggies in, I like to have a vegetable soup or a salad as often as possible. We have a lot of slaw, because that is much easier to make ahead--cabbage doesn't wilt in dressing like lettuce does--but a nice tossed salad can be thrown together pretty quickly. For the lettuce salads, I like to use this Jamie Oliver recipe as a base, and this is my favorite slaw recipe lately. I have my eye on this carrot slaw to try soon, though. This cream of baby carrot soup is easy to make while doing the rest of dinner, and is a big hit with my family.
- Bring healthy snacks to work. It is so easy to head for the vending machine when you are feeling hungry, or stop in the cafeteria for an order of fries. If you already have a healthy choice you can grab, it is easier to avoid this. I usually bring leftover for my lunches, but I also try to bring something for when the munchies hit. Almonds are a good choice for this, and I like to get ready made dried fruit and nut trail mixes. A piece of fruit is always good, or a bowl of fruit salad. I have had soup or slaw for a mid-afternoon snack, too, so I can get in more of those veggies.
- For the exercise, I basically trick myself into getting more movement in my day. Like I said before, I park far away from where I am going, but I also do things like drink a lot of coffee or water, which makes me get up more often to run to the bathroom. I got a dog partly to make me walk more, but I know that is a bit drastic. I have also arranged with friends to be walking buddies to make sure I head out the door on a regular basis, which is certainly less expensive than a dog. For the gym, I like to sign up for a class rather than just rely on myself to head to the gym, because I am more likely to go that way. Also, I signed up for the Y and took to the kids to the branch with the awesome indoor pool, which means they are often asking me to take them. I exercise for a bit, then join them in the pool.
Avoiding stress as much as you can is important, too. In my experience, this mostly means controlling your reaction to stressful occurrences, as there are so many stressful things that you cannot avoid entirely. Very few of us can afford to just quit a job if the boss is a jerk. When I have had bad bosses in the past (thankfully, my current supervisor is wonderful--it makes a huge difference in enjoying my job), I worked very hard at not allowing that to affect me. I did the best job I could, and worked hard at not worrying about work when I was away from work. It is hard to do, but I would interrupt my thoughts when I found myself dwelling on it, and reminded myself I was doing the best I could, and I cannot control the boss’s reaction. There is no use worrying over what you cannot change. I apply this to all stressors that are out of my control--my ex-husband, my teenage daughter’s hormones, politics, etc. It takes practice and work, but I have been able to let a lot of this roll off my back, not letting it upset me.
All of these tips should be good for avoiding almost any health problem.