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Your body makes cholesterol, and you also get it from some of the foods you eat.
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Americans continue to eat too much cholesterol, saturated fat, sodium and added sugars, reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Eating this way increases your risk of diet-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Reduce your risk by lowering your intake of these nutrients and replacing them with healthier options.
Kick Cholesterol to the Curb
Without the waxy substance known as cholesterol, you wouldn't be able to digest the food you eat or make important substances like vitamin D and hormones. If too much cholesterol is circulating in your bloodstream, however, it can accumulate as plaque in your artery walls and cause heart disease or stroke, according to Harvard Health Publications. Limit your cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams daily or less if you have or are at risk for heart disease, recommends the American Heart Association. Keep your cholesterol levels in check by eating foods with soluble fiber, such as apples and citrus. Oats, beans, eggplant and okra are also good sources. Reduce your intake of animal foods -- the only source of dietary cholesterol, according to the association -- such as meat, poultry and dairy.
Fight Bad Fat
Fat provides valuable energy and a way for your body to store energy for later. It's also an essential part of your cell membranes. The main dietary fats include saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Keeping your saturated fat intake as low as possible is just as important to maintaining healthy blood cholesterol levels as watching your cholesterol intake, states the Harvard School of Public Health. Replace red meat with lean chicken, fish or beans. Eat low-fat or nonfat dairy foods. Steer clear of trans fats altogether by avoiding fried foods, as well as foods that list partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients. Unsaturated fats from plant oils help to prevent heart disease. Replace butter and lard with small amounts of vegetable and nut oils, such as olive, canola and peanut oil.
Your body does need some sodium to maintain normal blood pressure, nerve conduction and muscle contraction. But if you're like most Americans, you consume more sodium than you need in the form of table salt - sodium chloride - added to packaged and processed foods. Too much sodium can lead to water retention, making your heart work harder and increasing your blood pressure. Limit your daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams, recommends the American Heart Association. Replace packaged foods with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish. If you must use prepared foods, look for no-salt-added or low-salt versions. Flavor your food with herbs, spices, lemon and other salt-free seasonings. When dining out, request that salt be left out of your meal.
Attack Added Sugars
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, which is the main fuel your body uses for energy. Occurring naturally in some foods, such as lactose in milk and fructose in fruit, it's also added as a sweetener. You might see it listed in the ingredients as high-fructose corn syrup, sugar and other names. Added sugars in excess amounts contribute to obesity, states the Department of Health and Human Services. Limit your daily added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons if you're female and 9 teaspoons if you're male, recommends the heart association. Avoid sugary beverages, opting instead for water with lemon or orange slices. Add fresh fruit to your morning oatmeal instead of brown sugar. Look for foods labeled as sugar-free, reduced-sugar or containing no added sugars.