When you think of a cholesterol-lowering diet, the image of bland, unappetizing food probably comes to mind. Luckily, there are plenty of scrumptious snacks that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol. You can even indulge in many favorite foods. The key is knowing easy fat-trimming tricks and learning how to choose the tasty, lower-fat options on grocery shelves.
To prepare healthy and delicious low-fat meals at home, make a few minor changes, says Sandra Woodruff, M.Sc., R.D., a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Tallahassee, FL, and author of The Best-Kept Secrets of Healthy Cooking. What she recommends:
- Avoid shortening, butter, lard and other cooking fats high in saturated fat and trans fat; instead, use olive, canola or peanut oil, or chicken, beef or vegetable broth.
- Bake, steam, broil, boil or oven-fry rather than deep-fry.
- Trim visible fat from meat.
- Remove skins from poultry and switch from dark meat to white meat, which is leaner.
- In place of high-fat spreads, use cholesterol-lowering margarine or margarine that is labeled “trans fat–free.”
Low-fat Food Shopping
First steps. Avoid foods high in cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fat—like fatty meats, fried foods, baked goods, crackers and high-fat dairy—Woodruff says. The foods to load up on? “Fruits, vegetables and other high-fiber foods. Not only are they low in cholesterol and saturated fat, the fiber binds to cholesterol and helps the body dispose of it.” To stock your low-cholesterol kitchen, try:
Whole grain instant cereal. Once time-consuming to prepare, whole grain cereal is now a fast, easy-to-whip-up meal that’s delicious and, when paired with low-fat milk, a healthy way to start the day. Options include low-fat granola, bran flakes, shredded wheat and instant oatmeal. Spice your choice up with cinnamon, fruit slices or berries, recommends Meri Raffetto, R.D., founder of RealLivingNutrition.com and a registered dietician and nutritionist in Raleigh, NC.
Whole grain bread. It’s no longer the heavy, dry bread you remember from childhood. Health-savvy bakers have recently developed whole-grain white breads that are as tasty and light as typical white breads.
Whole grain couscous. A tasty and fiber-rich alternative to white rice, couscous cooks quickly and is just as easy to flavor. Try it with garlic, mint leaves, cilantro, parsley or chopped tomatoes and low-fat goat cheese.
Whole grain crackers. These low-fat alternatives to processed crackers can be turned into fast, healthy snacks when topped with low-fat mozzarella and tomato; sliced olives and low-fat cream cheese; trans fat–free nut butters; or turkey and avocado, says Raffetto.
Popcorn. It’s very healthy when air-popped or popped with canola oil. Opt for healthy toppings rather than butter: a dash of olive oil and sea salt, or as much chili powder as you like. Buying popcorn in a bag? “Don’t assume it’s low in fat—even if it’s air-popped. Prepackaged popcorn is often sprayed with toppings loaded in trans fat,” Raffetto warns. “Read the label.”
Fresh fruit. Liven up bananas with peanut butter, or grill them and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake apple slices in a pan with cinnamon and apple juice—they’ll taste like the filling of apple pie.
Juice-sweetened jams. These high-fiber spreads can be used on sandwiches and in low-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese and oatmeal, as well as in baked poultry dishes.
Dried fruit. “It’s perfect as an on-the-go snack, alone or mixed with nuts,” says Raffetto. But check labels, she cautions: “While banana chips seem healthy, some are fried in coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat.”
Apple juice. It may lack cholesterol-fighting fiber, but the natural antioxidants in apple juice help reduce your risk of heart disease when you drink it regularly, according to a University of California study.
Fresh vegetables. Make them more interesting by adding low-fat salad dressing, sautéing them in cooking sherry or chopping them up to mix into spicy salsa.
Frozen vegetables. “Always keep a package in the freezer. Then throw them in whatever you’re making—such as scrambled eggs, soup or burritos,” recommends Raffetto.
Sweet potatoes. This sweet tuber can be made even sweeter, Raffetto notes: All you need to do is pop it into the microwave, slice it in half lengthwise and sprinkle it with cinnamon and nutmeg.
White potatoes. Top baked potatoes with spicy bean chili, low-fat sour cream and chives or low-fat cheddar cheese and broccoli.
Variety, variety, variety. A wide-ranging diet may be your heart’s best friend, as long as you choose wisely. A University of Toronto study found that those put on a diet containing a variety of cholesterol-lowering foods—including soy protein, fibrous vegetables, almonds, oatmeal, barley and margarine enriched with plant sterol—reaped significant rewards. Those who stuck to the diet most rigidly saw a 29 percent drop in cholesterol levels after a year. And even those who were less faithful showed a 10 to 20 percent drop.
From our sister publication, Remedy's Healthy Living, Spring 2007