Lowering your LDL ("bad") cholesterol level can be as easy as making simple changes in the way you cook. These 12 tips and tricks will help you turn everyday meals into heart-healthy fare that tastes great.
1. Cook with whole grains.
Whether you’re making pasta, rice, or tortillas, swap your usual grains with whole grains. Use whole wheat pasta or brown rice, and check the label so you know it's made from whole grains and has the fiber you need. Replace noodles with quinoa. Try oats and barley, which have soluble fiber and are great for lowering cholesterol, says chef and nutritionist Michelle Dudash, RD.
2. Use healthy oils instead of butter.
Instead of tossing a pat of butter into your frying pan, try a splash of extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil. Other heart-healthy choices are safflower, sunflower, and soybean oils. Use them to pan-fry fish and poultry and to sauté vegetables. Use them sparingly, Dudash says. “A little goes a long way.”
3. Select lean cuts of meat.
“Choose the leanest cuts available, and trim off visible fat,” Dudash says. Good choices are pork tenderloin, 95% lean ground beef, beef tenderloin, round, chuck, sirloin, and flank steak. Look for labels that say “choice” or select” grade rather than “prime.”
4. Transform your favorite meat dishes.
Can’t imagine a week without red meat? “Try bison, a leaner version of beef,” says Katie Cavuto, MS, RD, a nutritionist in Philadelphia. Love meatballs but not their cholesterol count? Cook turkey or bison meatballs. Add cooked grains like millet or quinoa instead of bread crumbs for an added nutritional boost.
5. Broil, roast, or bake. (Don’t fry.)
Roast your veggies for added flavor without excess fat. Bake, broil, or grill your fish to cut back on added salt and saturated and trans fats. Cook meat under a broiler instead of frying on the cooktop. Place it on a rack so the fat drains off. To add flavor and keep meat moist, baste with wine, fruit juices, or a healthy marinade instead of drippings.
6. Take off the skin.
Before you cook chicken or turkey, remove the skin. It’ll stay moist if you baste it with wine, juice, or a healthy marinade.
7. Skim off the top.
If you let your sauce or gravy cool before serving, the fat will harden and you can skim it right off the top. A fat separator works too -- simply pour off the healthy liquid and leave the fat behind.
8. Use egg whites only.
All the cholesterol in an egg is in the yolk. So if you use only the white, you’ll have a heart-healthy source of protein. When a recipe calls for whole eggs, swap it with egg whites or cholesterol-free egg substitute. Use two egg whites for every whole egg.
9. Swap applesauce for oil.
When you bake, use pureed fruits or veggies instead of oil. Try applesauce for muffins and cookies. Use bananas in quick-bread recipes. Zucchini is a nutrient-rich oil substitute for brownies. Simply use the specified amount of puree in place of oil.
10. Switch to low-fat dairy.
Many recipes that call for whole milk or half-and-half can be slimmed down by using low-fat or fat-free milk. You can also use lower-fat and lower-sodium versions of cheese. Instead of whole milk mozzarella, use part-skim.
11. Cook with beans.
You need protein, but meat’s not the only way to get it. “Opt for beans for your center-of-plate protein at least twice a week,” Dudash says. Try a bean burrito, beans on a salad, or black beans and rice.
12. Cook ahead.
“Make a batch of whole grains like quinoa, millet, or brown or wild rice at the beginning of the week,” Cavuto suggests. Refrigerate, then pull the cooked grains out for recipes, snacks, and salads later in the week.