1. Attain and maintain a healthy body weight
Do a simple calculation of your body mass index (BMI) at home: divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in meters) squared. A value between 18.5 and 24.9 indicates that you have a healthy weight, where any value above 25 indicates that you are overweight. Overweight people tend to have higher LDL (bad) and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels and thus are at increased risk. Obesity is indicated by a BMI of 30 or more.
2. Replace saturated (unhealthy) fats in your diet with unsaturated (healthy) fats
For example, use soft tub margarine, olive, Canola, avocado, grape seed and sunflower oil (amongst other) in food preparation or over salads instead of hard brick margarine/butter/ghee, cream or coconut milk.
3. Cut down on Trans fats
Although trans fats are found naturally in small amounts in various animal products (e.g. beef, pork, lamb, milk, butter), they can also be formed in a manufacturing process that is widely used in the food industry to make margarine, shortening and commercial cooking oils. It is also found in baked goods (pastries, biscuits, cakes) and other processed foods in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Fortunately, in South Africa, products are now required by law to limit Trans fats to an acceptable level of 2% or less, providing consumers with healthier choices.
4. Ensure an adequate intake of fibre
Eat at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Legumes (beans, peas and lentils) are high in fibre and a good source of protein – try to include it in your diet at least 3 times a week.
5. Be physically active
Exercising regularly helps to increase your HDL (good) cholesterol. The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. This can include brisk walking, jogging, swimming and cycling – aim to be breathless, not speechless.
6. Drink alcohol in moderation (if at all)
Alcohol is not essential for health. Should you wish to consume alcohol, stay within the recommended limit of 1 unit per day for women, and up to 2 units per day for men (1 unit is equal to a small glass (120ml) of wine or 340ml beer/cider or 1 tot of spirits). Remember not to accumulate! Watch your kilojoule (energy) intake by choosing dry or ‘light’ alcohol options. Opt for red wine which contains resveratrol and polyphenols (antioxidants) that may assist with raising HDL (good) cholesterol (when consumed in moderation).
7. Practice healthy cooking methods
Avoid frying foods – rather use dry-frying, roasting, baking, poaching, boiling, steaming, grilling and microwave cooking. Remove all visible fats from meats and the skin from chicken PRIOR to cooking – lean meats can also be roasted or grilled on a rack so that the extra fat can drip off. Remember that meat dishes can be thickened by using legumes and/or vegetables in combination and cream in recipes can be substituted with low fat evaporated milk and sour cream or low fat yoghurt.
8. Incorporate fish that is naturally fatty in your diet every week
For example, a 100g portion of pilchards/salmon/tuna/ mackerel/sardines/trout/herring/snoek at least once a week. These are rich sources of the healthy (polyunsaturated) fats called Omega-3’s, which may reduce triglyceride (bad fat) levels in the blood.
9. Try the plant sterol route
These naturally occur in small quantities in fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and vegetable oils. The recommended daily intake of plant sterols to assist in reducing cholesterol levels is 2g per day, an amount we typically do not consume in our regular diet. Certain food products, such as Flora pro-activ and Nola Cholestro Go, which are both Heart Mark approved, are enriched with these plant sterols and can be eaten daily.
10. Listen to your medical practitioner
Any medication should be taken as prescribed and should not be discontinued unless this has been discussed with your doctor.