Making an effort to lower your cholesterol numbers can require some serious life changes, most drastically when it comes to your diet. For many people, the “bad for you” list looks a lot like a list of favorite foods — and that’s the biggest challenge.
But smart food choices are essential for lowering cholesterol and lowering your risk of heart attack. Watching your diet can reduce your cholesterol levels without medication, or enhance the effects of the cholesterol-lowering drug you take. “Your genetics play a big role in your cholesterol level, but so do other factors — including diet — and the foods you eat can help to lower it,” says Harvey Kramer, MD, a cardiologist at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Connecticut.
Scallops Instead of Red Meat
If your new diet rules seem daunting, here are some simple food swaps for an easier transition.
Swapping out red meat for fish — especially fattier varieties, like salmon — may contribute to lower cholesterol numbers overall, says Sue Gebo, RD, MPH, a nutrition expert and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Connecticut Medical School in Hartford.
Scallops are a particularly healthy substitute because they’re among the lowest in the fat of all fish choices, so you’ll save on calories, too. Plus, Gebo adds, “they have a rich texture and a very satisfying flavor, especially when they’re grilled.”
Crushed Walnuts Instead of Croutons on Salad
High-fiber vegetables are great for lowering cholesterol, so salads are a go — that is until you top them off with high-carb croutons, which may also be high in unhealthy fats. Enterheart-healthy nuts; walnuts, in particular, are a great healthy food swap for garnishing a salad. A study published in March 2014 in the journal Metabolism showed that when people added 43 grams (g) of walnuts (about 6 tablespoons) to their diet every day for two months, their bad cholesterol levels went down significantly — by about 7 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) more than a control diet. And when it comes to nuts, walnuts are a particularly heart-healthy food for low cholesterol because they’re rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, a healthier type of fat.
Canadian Bacon Instead of Regular Bacon
Bacon lovers, rejoice! While 1 ounce (about 3 slices) of regular bacon contain a whopping 12 g of fat, 3 ounces of Canadian bacon has less than half of that amount — 5 g of fat. “I don’t know why they call it bacon, because Canadian bacon is really just round slices of really lean ham,” says Gebo. No matter what you call it, it’s by far a better, healthier option.