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Read the latest healthy eating advice in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines.

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Nutrition Smarts

Diet, Exercise and Cholesterol

Diet and physical activity have a major effect on your cholesterol. Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly can help you lower your cholesterol or maintain a normal level. Likewise, lack of physical activity and poor food choices can send your cholesterol soaring.

Foods to Beware

Saturated fat is the main food culprit for high cholesterol. Saturated fats are mostly found in marbled meat, poultry with skin and full-fat dairy products. Experts recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your daily calories. Lowering your consumption of saturated fats has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol.

It is also important to be mindful of the cholesterol in food. Experts say not to consume more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day. Eggs, cheese, sour cream, butter, meat and poultry all contain cholesterol.

Lastly, the trans fat in packaged baked goods like crackers, cakes and cookies, fried foods and some margarine is a worry. The latest recommendation is to keep harmful trans fat intake below one percent.

Foods to Fill Your Plate

At the same time, there is a universe of foods that when eaten in abundance can help lower your cholesterol.

Fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, beans and oats all have proven cholesterol-fighting benefits. Studies have demonstrated that fiber lowers cholesterol. It also makes you feel full, which can help control weight. Experts recommend eating 25 to 38 grams of fiber daily, depending on your sex and your age. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lets oat makers put a "heart-healthy" claim on their products because of oats' ability to decrease total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

Fish are low in saturated fat and high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that can help lower cholesterol. Experts advise eating at least two servings of baked or grilled fish each week. Wild salmon is a top choice because it is so healthful, but other good fresh fish to consider are flounder, trout, tuna and halibut. Walnuts and flax seeds are some non-fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids. In September 2004, the FDA okayed a "heart healthy" claim for foods with omega-3 fatty acids.

Soy foods such as soy milk, soy burgers, tofu and edamame (whole soybeans) may lower your risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, according to the FDA. The advice is to eat 25 grams of soy protein each day, which is the equivalent of a little over three cups of soy milk.

Nuts, including almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pecans, macadamias and pistachios, help lower cholesterol. Experts believe this is due to the combination of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats they contain. When weaving nuts into your diet, keep in mind that they are caloric.

Experts believe that polyunsaturated fats (including nuts, seeds and safflower, sesame and corn oils) and monounsaturated fats (including avocados and canola, olive and peanut oils) may help lower your cholesterol when you consume them instead of saturated fats. All the same, nutritionists advise using all fats sparingly.

Exercise

Working out on a regular basis lowers LDL cholesterol and raises HDL cholesterol levels. It also helps you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, which is beneficial not only for your heart health but for your overall health. Experts say to aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.

Family History

Another risk factor for high cholesterol is genetics. Some people have high cholesterol because it runs in their family. If you have a family history of high cholesterol or heard disease, it is more important than ever to eat right, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.

 

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