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Lowering Your Blood Cholesterol

Lowering Your Blood Cholesterol: Frequently Asked Questions

Last modified: 
19/04/2012 - 10:34

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Q: Does caffeine raise blood cholesterol levels?

A: Caffeine is found in many soft drinks, coffee, tea, and to a lesser extent, chocolate. Caffeine does not raise blood cholesterol levels, and research has yielded conflicting results on whether caffeine increases risk of heart disease. Based on current evidence, a moderate intake of caffeine does not seem to be harmful.

Q: Should a person avoid eating eggs entirely?

A: Health experts advise limiting cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams or less daily. One large whole egg yolk contains about 215 milligrams of cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends limiting egg yolk consumption to three to four times weekly and focusing on the total diet instead of just one food. The cholesterol in eggs is found in the yolk portion, so you can use as many egg whites as you want. Eggs contain B vitamins, iron and other minerals and are a good source of high-quality protein.

Q: Can fat substitutes help lower blood cholesterol?

A: Many low-fat foods and fat replacers have made reducing fat intake easier. Often, however, these fat substitutes are used in foods such as cookies, chips, or desserts. While lower in fat, such foods often contain the same number of calories as their comparable counterparts. Overeating on low-fat foods can still contributes to obesity, which in turn contributes to high blood cholesterol and other health problems. Further, these foods often lack the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other healthy substances found in alternative food choices such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Q: Should a person avoid dairy products to lower cholesterol?

A: Skim milk and low-fat dairy products contain only small amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol and can easily be included in a low-fat, low-cholesterol eating plan. In addition, dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, a mineral that may help prevent the development of osteoporosis, or brittle bones, later in life.

Q: Should people trying to lower their cholesterol level use margarine or butter?

A: Although butter is high in both saturated fat and cholesterol, some margarines may not be much better than butter. Stick margarines that have been hydrogenated, or chemically changed, contain trans-fatty acids, a type of fat that can raise blood cholesterol levels. Choose liquid vegetables oils or soft margarines over stick margarines or butter. The softer a margarine is, the more unsaturated it is. As a general rule, shop for margarine with no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and with liquid vegetable oil listed as the first ingredient.

Q: Can fish oil help lower cholesterol?

A: Although fish oil may lower levels of blood triglycerides (another type of fat) and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol, it does not seem to significantly lower the LDL, or bad type of cholesterol. However, fish is a great protein source that is very low in fat and saturated fat. Eating fish two to three times weekly does helps to lower risk for heart disease, possibly by interfering with the ability of blood to clot. The American Heart Association recommends that people eat fish regularly but does not advise taking fish oil supplements.

Q: Should people use oat bran to lower cholesterol levels?

A: Oats and oat bran contain generous amounts of soluble fiber, which helps to lower the bad LDL cholesterol and raise the good HDL cholesterol. However, some oat bran muffins can be high in fat and calories, so read labels carefully. Although oat bran may help lower cholesterol, many other foods, particularly legumes and certain fruits, are also rich in soluble fiber. The body needs both soluble and insoluble fiber to function properly.

Q: How do I know the amounts of fat, cholesterol, and sodium in the foods I eat?

A: Read food labels. The labels on the packaging of the foods you buy will list these amounts, as well as other helpful information such as fiber and vitamin content. The quantities given on food labels are on a "per-serving" basis. The top of the label will define what a "serving" is for that particular food.

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.