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Take Charge of Your Cholesterol

Lower Your Heart Disease Risk with Simple Swaps

One of the top risk factors of heart disease – high cholesterol – is something you can take charge of reducing with these simple diet changes – today!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 46% of Americans live with at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Locally, heart disease and stroke were identified as top health priorities for residents in the 2020 Calvert County Community Health Needs Assessment. In many cases, high cholesterol can be controlled with dietary changes.

Recently, we sat down with board-certified cardiologist Dr. Cassius Belfonte of Calvert Internal Medicine Group to learn more about how high cholesterol increases our risk for heart disease and how we can control it by eating healthier.

“Avoid fast food and processed foods, avoid food that is heavy in cheese and butter – but definitely the fast foods,” said Dr. Belfonte. High cholesterol leads to plaque buildup on the arteries over time, which can lead to a heart attack. High cholesterol increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, according to the CDC. Most healthy adults should get their cholesterol checked every 4-6 years, but those with risk factors will need to be tested more often.

Dr. Belfonte recommends that individuals with high cholesterol eat more (unsalted) nuts, seafood, vegetables, and fruits. For protein sources, stay away from pork and beef.

The simplest changes to help lower cholesterol can be to switch regular butter for low-fat and cholesterol friendly versions, substituting vegetable oil for more cholesterol-friendly oils like avocado oil and olive oil, and swapping whole milk for almond milk or skim milk for whole milk.

Managing cholesterol with diet doesn’t totally mean removal of foods, either. Some foods can raise your “good” or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol such as fish and seafood, unsalted nuts, and avocados. You don’t have to give up all cheese, Dr. Belfonte said, but focus more on lower fat cheeses like mozzarella and low-fat cottage cheese.

Breakfast could be a challenge for those with high cholesterol, since many favorite American breakfast foods like bacon and sausage have high amounts of it. Dr. Belfonte said one egg a day is usually fine for cholesterol levels, but more than that could contribute to high cholesterol.

“For breakfasts, I encourage patients to focus on fruit, oatmeal and nuts,” Dr. Belfonte said. Personally, he’s a fan of simple breakfasts like toast and bananas.

Cholesterol-friendly Breakfast Ideas

Many common breakfast foods are also big cholesterol culprits. Try these satisfying breakfast combinations that will help keep your cholesterol in check:

  • Yogurt parfait with low-fat Greek yogurt and fresh fruit
  • Banana split yogurt parfait: Slice a banana lengthwise, serve with low-fat Greek yogurt, fruit, and chopped unsalted nuts
  • Alaskan avocado toast: Mash half an avocado onto a slice of whole grain toast, layer smoked salmon on top
  • Chocolate strawberry protein oats: Prepare one serving of oatmeal according to package instructions. Remove from heat and add one scoop of chocolate protein powder and sliced strawberries
  • Peanut butter cup protein oats: Prepare one serving of oatmeal according to package instructions. Remove from heat and add one scoop of chocolate protein powder and one tablespoon of peanut butter powder (such as PB2)
  • Green smoothie: Combine one single-serve container of Greek yogurt, one cup of almond milk, one half avocado, and one cup of fruit into a blender and blend until smooth
  • Breakfast caprese toast: On a slice of whole grain toast, spread a layer of ricotta cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and top with tomatoes, basil, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar
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