If you are already very healthy, nutritionists recommend limiting your dietary intake of cholesterol to 300 mg. per day.  If you have high cholesterol or heart disease,  you’ll be advised to stay on a lower cholesterol diet, which usually limits dietary cholesterol intake to 200 mg per day.

But what does that mean when you are eating your way through the day?  Well, a bowl of oatmeal has no cholesterol.  But the milk does.  A glass of 1% milk has 10 mg.  Peanut butter, kidney beans, bananas, cabbage, almond milk, alfalfa sprouts –and Oreos– are all among the foods that contain zero cholesterol.

Nine chocolate kisses contain the same amount of cholesterol as that glass of milk– 10 mg.   But a chicken thigh has 57 mg. of cholesterol.  Although a package of Oreos contains no cholesterol, it does contain saturated fat which are not good for your heart, just as cholesterol is not good for your heart.  But if you were to choose between Oreos and Zingers, opt for Oreos: Why?  A package of three chocolate Zingers has 75 mg of cholesterol, way more saturated fat and also the wicked trans fat, while the Oreos have no cholesterol, no trans fat, and less saturated fat.  (When are they going to make Oreos with olive oil instead of palm oil!?  Not to mention cutting the sugar content in half.)

Confused yet? Me too.

But there are some great resources out there for those of us who wish to improve the health of our hearts, but don’t want to count cholesterol intake, go all vegan, or follow overly precise diet plans.

I like the low cholesterol diet advice from WebMD:  http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/cholesterol-diet-8/default.htm  They keep it pretty simple:  use oats, the right kinds of nuts (walnuts and almonds); plants, especially those containing sterols and stanols;  soy; and omega-3 fatty acid containing fishes.

The Mayo Clinic’s site talks about how exercise helps lower cholesterol (and not just by dropping pounds!) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/reduce-cholesterol/CL00012

At the Jefferson Hospital website, I learned a lot. There are easy to read charts and suggestions to clarify what the cholesterol numbers mean and how to decide whether you should go on statins or just change your diet and exercise regimen to lower your cholesterol naturally.  http://www.jeffersonhospital.org/Keep-In-Touch/February-2011-Issue/how-to-lower-your-cholesterol-levels-without-medication.aspx  The site also explains that as you reduce your saturated fat intake, increase your fiber intake (to between 5 grams and 10 grams daily) and make other heart-healthy lifestyle choices – you can reduce cholesterol levels by 15 percent to 20 percent.  If you also lose weight, you can push the numbers down even further.  Just losing 10 pounds could drop your cholesterol totals an additional 8 percent.  And the site explains that while niacin can lower cholesterol, the large doses, (vitamin B3) required to make a change will usually cause flushing and itching.  So it’s not recommended.

Then, at Dr. Neal Barnard’s 21-Day Vegan Kickstart website, you can learn how natural foods and non-animal-based foods can produce miracles in lowering cholesterol and preventing or reversing other health problems:  http://kickstartdev.pcrm.org/webcasts/index.cfm

With all these nutritional voices warning us to cut back, it’s time to get educated and make the changes.  And it might mean something other than buying a bag of Oreos.

Happy New Year’s Resolution-keeping!

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