Let's say you've decided to get serious about reducing your cholesterol. You've committed to exercising more regularly, losing some weight, and starting a low cholesterol diet. But your kitchen, alas, is still full of the not-so-healthy foods you love.
It's time to make over your kitchen -- and you don't have to knock out walls, replace appliances, or even paint the cabinets. Instead, dieticians recommend:
- Getting rid of as much unhealthy food as you can.
- Replacing it with heart-healthy food.
- Learning how to store and prepare those foods properly.
Low Cholesterol Diet Tip 1: Throw out the 'Bad' Fats.
Sometimes the easiest way to make sure you stick to a low cholesterol diet is to just get unhealthy foods out of the house. So grab a trash bag, open the cabinets, the fridge, and the pantry, and start tossing.
Look for the most obvious villains first -- processed foods containing trans fatty acids. These ''trans fats'' have been linked to increased levels of the so-called "bad cholesterol'' (low-density lipoproteins or LDLs), which are associated with heart-disease. Trans fats have also been linked to decreased levels of "good cholesterol" (high-density lipoproteins or HDLs).
As of January 2006, the FDA ruled that all nutritional labels must list trans fat content. But if you have products in your cabinets or freezer that pre-date 2006 and contain ''hydrogenated'' or ''partially hydrogenated'' ingredients (such as vegetable shortening, margarine, non-dairy creamer, or commercial baked goods) -- toss them. The American Heart Association recommends that Americans get no more than 1% of their calories from trans fats.
Low Cholesterol Diet Tip 2: Stop Buying Saturated Fat.
After you've used up the last hamburger in the meat drawer and the last gallon of whole milk, vow to buy better. The American Heart Association recommends that we get only 7% of our daily calories from saturated fats, as they have been linked to higher levels of LDLs.
The best way to keep saturated fat levels down is to avoid animal products (beef, pork, cold cuts, bacon, and whole-milk dairy products like milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt). Instead, buy low-fat dairy products and low-fat sources of protein (like skinless chicken breasts, cod, tuna, and legumes).
And go ahead -- throw out the bacon grease you've been keeping in the refrigerator.
Low Cholesterol Diet Tip 3: Stock Up on Heart-Healthy Oils and Fats.
One key to a low-cholesterol diet is using unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in nuts and seeds (sunflower, peanut, and walnut oil) have been shown to reduce LDLs. Monounsaturated fats, like olive, peanut and canola oils, have been shown to reduce the "bad" LDLs and increase HDLs.
Low Cholesterol Diet Tip 4: Replace Refined Grains with Whole Grains.
The white flour used in white pasta, cake mixes, many crackers, and some breads doesn't have as much nutritional value as whole-grain flour. These commercially baked products may also contain trans fats and/or saturated fats.
Instead, buy products made from whole grains or flours.
Whole grains (such as oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat flour, and barley) can bolster a low cholesterol diet in several ways. First, the grains themselves have no cholesterol or saturated fat. Second, oatmeal has lots of soluble fiber, which actually helps bind cholesterol and get it out of your body. Whole grains also have nutrients that help the heart (as well as the rest of your body) and, as complex carbohydrates, provide long-lasting energy to keep you going through the day.
The fiber in whole grains can keep you feeling full longer, too. That can help you avoid bingeing on unhealthy foods. It can also help keep your total calorie consumption down, a key factor in controlling weight.
Low Cholesterol Diet Tip 5: Hide the Remaining Goodies Well.
Sure, you can put the packaged chocolate chip cookies for your kids on a high shelf in the kitchen. But if you can put them up there, it's probably pretty easy to get them down again.
Consider making not-so-healthy food even less accessible. Try storing it on a shelf in the garage, in the recesses of your freezer, or behind the pots and pans.
''The idea is that if it's harder to get to it, you'll be that much less likely to eat it,'' says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, a registered dietician and practicing physician at Altoona Regional Medical Center in central Pennsylvania.
Low Cholesterol Diet Tip 6: Bring on the Fruits and Vegetables.
Clean the leftovers out of the vegetable bins, and stock up on a variety of fruits and vegetables, in all colors of the rainbow. Fruits and vegetables are rich in soluble fiber, as well as phytochemicals, which have been shown to help prevent heart disease.
Low Cholesterol Diet Tip 7: Make Healthy Foods Accessible.
Wash and chop fruits and vegetables and store them in plastic containers in the refrigerator, so you can grab them whenever you're hungry. You can also put out bowls or baskets of fruits (such as apples, pears, and plums) for easy access.
''If you make it easier to eat, you'll eat it,'' Gerbstadt says. ''No one wants to pull a melon out of the refrigerator and cut it up. So just do it ahead of time.''
Low Cholesterol Diet Tip 8: Get a Few Good Tools.
Having nonstick frying pans allows you to cook with less butter and oil. Buying your own oil pump allows you to make ''cooking spray'' from the oil of your choice. Good knives (that is, sharp ones) make chopping easier. A steamer lets you to cook vegetables without oil, while still keeping them crisp.
Low Cholesterol Diet Tip 9: Keep a Friendly Kitchen.
If your cooking space is clean, well-organized, and attractive, you're more likely to want to be in the kitchen -- and out of the fast food drive-in lane or the snack aisle at the grocery store.
Keep your herbs and spices fresh and alphabetically organized, so you can easily flavor your food without resorting to high-fat sauces. Keep your plastic containers organized so you can easily store healthy snacks in the refrigerator.
And keep your kitchen and dining room tables cleared of clutter, so family members can sit down and enjoy a real meal together, rather than snacking from cabinets or the fridge.