I am a 27 year old female and I have a cholesterol level of 186. My doctor told me she’d like my level to be around 160. I have changed my diet in that I have eliminated all fried food, processed foods, cheeses, red meat, etc. I will let you know that high cholesterol runs in my family. I generally have a good diet as I consume a Mediterranean diet. I eat out probably once a month if at all and hardly eat junk food, I’d say about once a week.
I have a sweet tooth for ice cream though. I have shopped around and the closest thing I found to what I’d like was frozen yogurt. As I grabbed it from the freezer, I looked at the nutrition facts and noticed that the total fat was 2.5 g DV 4%, saturated fat was 1.5g DV 8%, trans fat 0g and cholesterol 20mg with 7% of the recommended daily value. I saw the 20mg in the cholesterol, got scared and put it back in the freezer.
I know considering that I have high cholesterol I probably shouldn’t be looking at ice cream, but I’ve heard everything in moderation is fine.
My question is did I make the right choice in putting down that ice cream bucket? What should I look for when I look at nutrition facts (numbers to be exact) and how much should I limit myself?
I’m going to give the bottom line first - go back to the freezer aisle and pick up some of that frozen yogurt now! :)
Phew, with that out of the way, here’s the rest of my answer:
All I can say is, well done! You have truly made exceptional, positive changes to help lower your blood cholesterol – a bit of a “poster child” I’d say! Eliminating the major sources of saturated fat, sodium (fried, processed foods) and all sources of trans fat is an incredible gift to your body. Choosing home prepared meals over typical restaurant fare and only enjoying a little "junk food” once a week are excellent strategies too. I might be a bit more flexible in the cheese and red meat department but that is because I love cheese. If you like cheese, consider bringing it back into you diet – just think garnish (a small of amount of some truly yummy cheese) versus entrée. Since you follow a Mediterranean diet (rich in vegetables and fruit, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds with fish and seafood, some eggs, cheese, yogurt, and poultry, and limited red meat and sweets), you already follow a diet that is recommended for heart health.
Here’s the tricky bit (read: frustrating part): your liver, the second largest organ in your body next to your skin, is a major cholesterol factory. In fact, your liver produces 80% of the cholesterol in your blood. What that means is that although dietary changes are extremely important (and highly recommended) to support your health, your liver is the bigger culprit at play here. For many people with familial hypercholesterolemia (a fancy word for hereditary high cholesterol), their doctor will recommend cholesterol-lowering medications despite being the “cleanest” eater. This isn’t to say not to make dietary modifications – please do! Not only will this lower your risk for heart disease, but they will also protect against cancer, and reduce the incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
A word about cholesterol… it isn’t the cholesterol in your diet that raised your blood cholesterol, it is the amount of saturated fat and trans fat in your diet. Unless you have diabetes (which you haven’t said you do), you can enjoy up to one egg a day.
The %DV (Percent Daily Value) makes it easy as it tells you whether or not a food or beverage item has a little or a lot of a particular nutrient. The problematic piece is that you need to consider the portion size the label refers to (in the case of ice cream or frozen yogurt it will probably be about ½ to ¾ of a cup (not the entire carton!). You also have to take it in context of the other foods and beverages you have eaten during the day. If something is labelled as having less than 5%, it is a little, over 15%, it has a lot. When comparing like products, use the %DV to make your best choice.
I hope this helps; enjoy every spoonful!
Yours in health,
Areli Hermanson, RD
Dietitian consultant to Pomme Natural Market
Editor’s Note: Pomme has a range of delicious, cholesterol-free, low saturated fat and no trans fat non-dairy ice creams that are another great alternative to ice cream!
Health science changes quickly. The information contained in this material should not be misconstrued as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or trusted health provider to determine what is best for you.