Thursday, 11 April 2013

Fats and Cholesterol

One of my main objectives in following this diet is to improve my cholesterol level and my heart disease risk. I've noticed from my food diary that about 35% of my diet is fat, which is a big surprise to me because I don't seem to add much fat and eat hardly any cheese. It seems that there is nothing intrinsically bad about fats, we need them as part of a balanced diet; but the advice is now clear-cut: saturated and trans fats are not part of a healthy diet.  Whilst reseraching this I found a good source for nutritional advice – The Harvard School of Public Health – this is their page on fats and cholesterol:

There's quite a lot to read through, here's a summary of their recommendations:
  1. Use liquid oils for cooking and baking. I always cook with olive oil but have been baking with butter, so I'm going to try switching to vegetable oil and I'll give olive oil a go in some savoury recipes.
  2. Avoid trans fats completely. Check the labels on shop bought cakes, pastries and biscuits, and avoid deep fried food when eating out unless you know the type of oil used for frying.
  3. Switch from butter to soft tub margarine. This argument seems to have gone on for years. The advice is that hard margarine (in a block) is less healthy than butter because it contains trans fats, soft tub margarines are healthier than butter. I've changed to spreads with plant sterols which claim to lower cholesterol, but I'm going to check out these claims in the near future.
  4. Eat at least one good source of omega-3 fats each day. They recommend fatty fish (tuna and salmon), but for veggies hemp seed oil seems like a good source. See  I'll be adding 3 teaspoons (15ml) to my food each day; and also eating a few walnuts and almonds. The American Heart Association recommends an omega-3 intake of 1000mg (ie 1 gram) per day.
  5. Cut back on red meat, cheese, milk and ice cream. It's easy to substitute cheese for meat as the main source of protein, but with my cholesterol profile I've stopped buying cheese except for a little parmesan to top things like stuffed pancakes, and only use milk for coffee.

In summary – use good oils for cooking and baking (eg olive oil and liquid vegetable oil), stop eating butter and switch to a soft spread, make sure you have a daily intake of omega-3 and 6, cut back on red meat, cheese, milk and ice cream.  

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