5 Simple and Healthy Diet Swaps to Control Cholesterol Levels

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Cholesterol management is an essential part of maintaining overall health, especially for those who struggle to keep their numbers in the right place.

Boston-based registered dietitian and nutritionist Nikita Kapur told Fox News Digital that high cholesterol can lead to cardiometabolic risk factors such as heart disease, diabetes and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the artery walls).

High levels of LDL, also known as “bad cholesterol,” can put the body at risk for these complications, which are often genetic but can also be manipulated by diet and lifestyle factors.

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“Sometimes we see very stubborn high cholesterol levels that don’t necessarily respond favorably to diet and lifestyle,” he said in an interview.

“But there are always benefits to focusing on these lifestyle factors.”

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A woman indulges in a plate of nuts and seeds. “The goal is to improve soluble fiber, which many of us don’t currently get.”
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Kapur, senior dietitian at Compass Nutrition, explained that a conscious diet for cholesterol management involves first incorporating food sources rich in soluble fiber.

These are present in plant foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

“The goal is to improve soluble fiber, which many of us don’t get these days,” he said. “And the recommendations are usually between 25 and 30 grams.”

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Omega-3s and healthy fats found in fish, seeds and oils are also good for lowering cholesterol.

If that sounds like a lot to chew on, here are five quick diet changes to help control your cholesterol levels.

1. Swap sugary cereal for a fiber-rich alternative

Instead of reaching for a bowl of Reese’s Puffs, try cereal alternatives that are higher in fiber and lower in sugar.

“Plain, old-school Cheerios we know have very high concentrations of oats,” said registered dietitian-nutritionist Nikita Kapur of Boston.
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Kapur encouraged consumers to focus on fiber content and “carbohydrate quality” rather than calories.

“Plain, old-school Cheerios we know have very high concentrations of oats,” she said.

“And then oats have a lot of beta-glucans and fiber that can be beneficial for lowering cholesterol.”

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Oatmeal can be another great grain swap, as can fiber-rich sprouted oat bread.

2. Replace white rice with brown rice

Achieving a cholesterol-conscious diet includes a consistent focus on whole grains.

Those who eat white rice should try switching to brown rice or other alternatives with a little more nutritional value like farro, barley or quinoa, he suggested.

A bowl of red, white and black quinoa and amaranth is shared at a table.  Those who eat white rice can try switching to foods like this that offer better nutritional value.

A bowl of red, white and black quinoa and amaranth is shared at a table. Those who eat white rice can try switching to foods like this that offer better nutritional value.
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The high-fiber whole grain swap can also be made by swapping flour tortillas for corn tortillas or simply leaving the skins on the potatoes, which add more fiber.

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Today, he said, “we also have a lot of packaged products that are high in fiber, like pastas or breads.”

It’s important to build a diet that ensures “the food remains satisfying” and doesn’t break the bank, Kapur added.

“Bean-based pastas and whole-grain pastas have more protein,” she said.

The spaghetti is rolled on a fork.  Try whole grain pasta options as part of a healthy diet.

The spaghetti is rolled on a fork. Try whole grain pasta options as part of a healthy diet.
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“But we want sustainable behaviors, so if this is something you have to force yourself to eat, there are other ways to get those benefits.”

3. Dive into a plant-based meal

Eating plants is a recent trend, which is a plus for people who want to clean up their diet.

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While some new plant-based food products may be synthetic and highly processed, Kapur suggested that consumers focus on “humble” plant-based products made from beans, tofu and edamame.

Beans are an excellent source of slow-release carbohydrates, as well as a good source of protein and fiber, which slow down the digestive process to help keep us fuller for longer.

Beans are an excellent source of slow-release carbohydrates, as well as a good source of protein and fiber, which slow down the digestive process to help keep us fuller for longer.
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Kapur recommended replacing one vegetable meal a day to help lower cholesterol.

“If you’re someone who’s doing eggs for breakfast, chicken for lunch and turkey for dinner, this would be a good place to switch and add black beans instead of turkey. [for] a meal,” he said.

“You can still eat your animal protein, but you’re making room for those plant nutrients.”

4. Try seeds if fish isn’t your thing

Although a variety of fish is rich in omega-3, a great resource for keeping bad cholesterol at bay, not everyone is a fan of fish.

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Kapur suggested swapping the fish for different nuts and seeds such as flax, chia, hemp, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, as well as almonds and walnuts.

Shown here is a variety of healthy, organic nuts and seeds.  Try swapping fish for different nuts and seeds such as flax, chia, hemp, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, as well as almonds and walnuts, Kapur said.

Shown here is a variety of healthy, organic nuts and seeds. Try swapping fish for different nuts and seeds such as flax, chia, hemp, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, as well as almonds and walnuts, Kapur said.
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“They’re going to try to mimic some of that omega-3 profile,” he said.

For those who eat fish but can’t spend a fortune, Kapur suggested trying smaller fish like sardines and mackerel, which are more affordable and available at most grocery stores.

5. Swap regular peanut butter for unsalted nut butter with no added sugar

Peanut butter can sometimes get a bad rap in diet discussions, but Kapur said there’s no need to ditch it.

Peanut butter spread on a piece of bread.  It's a good idea to swap any type of nut butter (peanut, almond, sunflower and others) for unsalted nut butter with no added sugar, a nutrition expert said.

Peanut butter spread on a piece of bread. It’s a good idea to swap any type of nut butter (peanut, almond, sunflower and others) for unsalted nut butter with no added sugar, a nutrition expert said.
(iStock)

The best option is to swap any kind of nut butter (peanut, almond, sunflower and others) for unsalted and unsweetened.added nut butter.

Maintaining a balanced diet is key, Kapur stressed, and too much of anything is not beneficial to our overall health.

“An easier way to organically focus on making sure quantity isn’t an issue is by eating a wide variety of foods, making sure you’re eating consistently and balancing your meals.”

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“They all matter,” he said.

“We don’t want to be afraid of the fats we get from nuts, seeds, olives and avocados.”

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