One of my closest friends recently called me in a panic. “I just got my blood work done and I need your help, “she said. She told me that her total cholesterol was high, her high density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol) was too low and her low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) was high. She said that she didn’t understand why her labs were so bad because “I run five days a week and my weight is within a healthy range.”  I let her know that various things can be risk factors for high cholesterol such as:  age/gender, family history, smoking status, weight, activity level, and blood pressure. After discussing my friend’s overall diet and lifestyle, I determined that her family history of heart disease and her diet were the likely causes of the high cholesterol.

Now, my dear friend cannot change her family history but she could certainly work to improve the overall health of her diet. She let me know that she generally eats a few eggs and toast for breakfast or will have some steel cut oats with fruit. Her lunch may consist of four tacos from a local favorite taco establishment, a small pepperoni pizza or a grilled cheese sandwich and a Coke. She let me know that she has been craving a lot of sweets lately so she will consume several Oreo cookies after her run or snack on cookies during the day. Dinner is generally better for her and may be baked chicken, potatoes 4% fat cottage cheese, and broccoli.

After reviewing her diet, I had several suggestions for ways to healthfully lower her total and LDL cholesterol and raise her HDL cholesterol. I suggested that she start to consume more soluble fiber. Adding about 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of foods high in soluble fiber to her diet can help reduce bad cholesterol. Examples of soluble fiber include:  oats, dried beans (lima, kidney, black, red, chickpeas), flaxseeds, apples, citrus fruit, berries, carrots, apricots, prunes, cabbage, sweet potatoes, soybeans, and Brussels sprouts. I encouraged her to skip the taco and sandwich a few days a week and make herself a soluble fiber packed salad.

Next I let my friend know that she should try to reduce the amount of saturated fat in her diet. Foods high in saturated fat include whole milk, full fat dairy, butter, and red meat. I urged my friend to begin using dairy products that were lower in fat (2% or less). I suggested that she try to stick with lean protein sources in the evening and do a few “meatless” entrees during the week. She could try a black bean veggie burger, a tofu vegetable stir fry, or a meatless taco made with textured vegetable protein (veggie crumbles). Foods high in trans fats should also be limited in a healthy diet. I recommend that she limit the amount of store bought cookies, chips, and other processed snacks and instead choose healthier snack options. Hummus with whole grain pita chips is a great salty snack while Greek yogurt topped with a variety of berries can satisfy any sweet tooth.

Last, but not least, is the sugar conversation. My great friend has a bit of a sweet tooth. I let her know that she could certainly consume her favorite cookies and desserts occasionally but I recommended that she limit how often she eats these and try to focus on healthier “sweet” choices. My favorite new sweet treat is a Kind bar. It has less than 200 calories and is filled with antioxidant rich dark chocolate, heart-healthy nuts, and flaxseed. I also love to snack on a variety of sliced fruit drizzled with a little honey or a small dish of Italian Ice. Delicious! Best of luck to my friend!

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