One of the keys to keeping your cholesterol down is avoiding all sugar and carbohydrates, which your body converts into sugar. Yet this can be very challenging considering how sugar and carbohydrates are in so much food around us. Sometimes finding the right substitutes is the most challenging part of eating a cholesterol-friendly diet.
Here are seven tips for bringing your cholesterol down through your diet — from improving your meals at home to choosing wisely when going out to restaurants.
1. Cauliflower is your friend
Consider switching from regular brown or white rice to cauliflower rice when making your meal. Cauliflower is much lower in carbohydrates but still can mimic the textures of many starches.
Mashed cauliflower makes a good substitute for mashed potatoes. As well, cauliflower-based dough is a great alternative to regular flour dough. You can make cauliflower pizza in your own home, and it’s a much healthier alternative to regular pizza.
2. Low carb = low sugar
If you need to eat tortillas with your meals, consider purchasing low-carb tortillas instead of regular wheat or corn tortillas. There is usually more fiber in low-carb tortillas, and your sugar levels are less likely to spike when eating them. This will have less of an impact on your cholesterol than eating regular tortillas.
3. Got almond milk?
Cow’s milk (including nonfat milk) contains lactose, which is a type of sugar. Drinking regular milk can lead to problems with managing your weight and cholesterol.
Unsweetened almond milk, however, is much lower in sugar content and can be a great alternative. When you shop for almond milk, remember to choose an unsweetened type. Read the label and make sure there are no added sugars.
If you’re allergic to almonds, unsweetened coconut milk can also work as a substitute for cow’s milk.
4. Bake intelligently
It’s possible to bake with sweeteners that don’t adversely affect your cholesterol. Remove all sugar (brown, white, coconut, agave, raw) from your recipes and replace it with natural substitutes that don’t harm your body. These include alternatives like stevia (which comes from the stevia plant) or sugar alcohols like xylitol or erythritol.
Products sold in markets like Truvia Baking Blend and Swerve are also fantastic for baking. As well, you can try substituting almond or coconut flour instead of white or wheat baking flour in recipes.
5. Drink responsibly
Soda contains a lot of sugar and will directly increase your triglycerides. So you should avoid soda at all costs if you have high cholesterol. If you’re not a fan of diet sodas, consider sparkling flavored waters. You can get creative with your drinks by adding a few drops of fruit extract to your water to give it a particular taste!
6. Read labels
Many things have hidden sugar or high fructose corn syrup in them. One common example is tomato sauce, which most people think is healthy, but frequently has added sugars. This also applies to some peanut and almond butters as well. Get in the habit of reading labels to check ingredient lists so you can avoid accidentally ingesting sugars.
7. Dine out smartly
It’s possible to make cholesterol-friendly choices when you go out to eat, pick up takeout, or have food delivered right to your door. Here are some options to consider when you dine at these popular eateries:
- In-N-Out Burger: Order your burger “protein style” — that is, wrapped in lettuce instead of served in a bun.
- Subway: You can order all of the signature sandwiches as a salad. Just be careful about the sauces that you add — they can contain quite a bit of hidden sugar in them.
- Olive Garden: Opt for the salad over the soup. Consider ordering a grilled entree like herb-grilled salmon or Margherita chicken with fresh vegetables in lieu of potatoes.
- Chipotle: Choose a burrito bowl instead of a traditional burrito.
- McDonald’s: Get the grilled chicken sandwich, but skip the bun and ketchup.
- Carl’s Jr.: With this franchise’s “low carb it” option, any of the burgers can be made into a lettuce wrap. Salad options include grilled chicken salad with blue cheese dressing and no croutons. But be sure to stay away from the raspberry vinaigrette, which is loaded with high fructose corn syrup.
- Wendy’s: Order the chicken grilled fillet in a lettuce wrap.
- KFC: Their grilled chicken with a side of green beans or “mean greens” is a great option. But beware the MSG, additives, and partially hydrogenated oils in their meats.
- El Pollo Loco: Choose the fire-grilled chicken wings with a side of vegetables. Hold the starches like potatoes, rice, beans, and tortillas, which are high in carbohydrates.
- Boston Market: Try the roast beef brisket, rotisserie chicken, or turkey breast (hold the gravy) with a side of garlicky lemon spinach. Say no to the cornbread.
Priyanka Wali, MD, is a board-certified internal medicine physician who can be found on twitter @WaliPriyanka