When I started my cholesterol-lowering mission, I decided against transforming my diet completely because I reckon if you change too much, then it’s probably not going to be sustainable.
I’ve seen friends go on diets where they’ve basically replaced everything they normally eat with completely different foods that they would never normally choose to eat. It seems to go really well for a couple of weeks, but then they start to crave the foods they’ve banned themselves from eating. Then one day they eat one of the forbidden ‘bad’ foods, and enjoy it so much that they think “sod it!” and end up devouring all of the foods they’ve been missing, and probably undoing all their good work.
After this they invariably give up the diet and go back to their normal way of eating, only to start the new diet in a few months’ time. So it ends up being a vicious cycle of dieting, losing some weight, bingeing, gaining weight, dieting, and so on….
I’ve done it myself in the past, like when I decided to give up chocolate for a month. As soon as I decided to give it up, all I could think about all day long was chocolate. I gave up after about a week because someone brought a delicious chocolate birthday cake into work and I couldn’t resist any longer. The next day I ate a massive bar of Dairy Milk because I thought “sod it, I’ve broken it anyway!” and had been craving chocolate all week. So I ended up eating way more chocolate than I would have eaten normally over the course of the week, completely defeating the whole point of giving it up in the first place.
Because diet overhauls generally don’t seem to work in the long-term, I wanted to make sure that the changes I made to my normal diet would be simple and sustainable, as I’ll need to maintain it for the rest of my life. So instead of transforming my diet and risk giving up after a few weeks, I just made little tweaks to all my meals and snacks, slowly introducing more foods that would help lower my cholesterol. Here are some of the things I now do to make my lunches more cholesterol-friendly:-
1. Use wholemeal bread for sandwiches
Wholemeal (wholegrain) bread is a great lunch option because it contains dietary fibre, which can help to lower bad cholesterol (LDL). Soya and linseed bread is another good (and really tasty) alternative because soya and linseed both help lower cholesterol.
2. Add beans to soups and salads
Beans are such a cheap and simple food to add to your lunches. They’re a delicious way to load up on fibre and plant-based protein, and they help reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. I always have tins of chickpeas, kidney beans, butter beans and cannellini beans in my cupboard, as well as a packet of soya (Edamame) beans in my freezer to chuck in soups or salads whenever I need them.
3. Use basil-infused olive oil as a salad dressing
Basil-infused olive oil is so versatile and really delicious. I can never be bothered to make salad dressings, so I just drizzle this on my salad instead. Olive oil is lower in saturated fat than other creamy salad dressings, such as mayonnaise, and is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, making it a great cholesterol-friendly option.
4. Eat baked beans with jacket potatoes
If you’re after an easy cooked lunch, then baked beans on a jacket potato is a great healthy choice, and one of my all-time favourites. Baked beans and potatoes are low in saturated fat and full of fibre, so can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL). To increase the health benefits even more, choose sweet potatoes, which are richer in vitamins and minerals, and have a lower GI (Glycemic Index), so will keep you fuller for longer.
5. Use houmous instead of mayonnaise
Houmous is a brilliant addition to a salad or sandwich because it contains chickpeas, sesame seed paste and garlic, all of which can help lower cholesterol. If you make your own houmous you can add olive oil and ground flaxseeds, which will increase the cholesterol-lowering effects even more.
6. Sprinkle seeds on salads
Seeds are packed with dietary fibre and healthy fats, which can help to lower bad cholesterol (LDL). They are also a good source of protein and full of all sorts of other nutrients, so are a great addition to salads.
I love seeds that have been toasted with soy sauce. It’s easy to do this at home – just mix a bag of seeds (i.e. sunflower, pumpkin, flaxseeds & sesame seeds) in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce. Spread them over a baking tray lined with baking paper and put them in the oven (160C / 140 fan / Gas mark 3) for 10-20 mins. After 10 mins, check them every 5 mins to make sure they don’t burn, and remove when dry and golden.
7. Choose lean, unprocessed meats
Reducing the amount of saturated fats in your meals can help lower your cholesterol. My favourite lean, unprocessed meat options are chicken, turkey, tuna and salmon. I used to have meat with lunch and dinner every single day, and couldn’t ever imagine not doing so. But now I have sometimes have meatless lunches, adding things like butter beans or soya beans instead, which are low in saturated fat and high in fibre so help to lower cholesterol.
8. Use avocado in sandwiches instead of butter
Avocados are rich in cholesterol-reducing monounsaturated fats and they also contain plant sterols, which reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food. Avocados seem to go well with everything, so make a great alternative to butter in sandwiches. I always sprinkle a bit of salt on the avocado and sometimes a squeeze of lemon to bring out the flavour.
9. Limit cheese consumption
I really love cheese, so it’s been tough having to cut down the amount I eat. Cheese is high in saturated fats, so isn’t a great choice if you have high cholesterol. I now have cheese just once or twice a week, and try not to have too much in one go.
10. Add an apple
Eating an apple a day can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and will also contribute towards your five a day. Apples are rich in antioxidant phytonutrients, and contain many other vitamins and minerals, so having one a day will provide a lot of health benefits. Here are some of the ways I incorporate apples into my lunches.
If you don’t have time to make your own lunches, here’s a list cholesterol-friendly shop-bought lunches to try.
Click here to see more of my top tips for lowering cholesterol, and keeping it low.