We all know that cholesterol is not good for you. Most people are aware that having high cholesterol, specifically high levels of LDL cholesterol, can lead to clogged arteries and ultimately a heart attack. Besides the risks to your heart, the main artery to the brain can be clogged, causing a stroke. Finally, gallstones can also be caused by high cholesterol levels.
On the other hand, your body does need cholesterol. It makes up a major part of the brain, is a building block for hormones, vitamin D, and bile. There are numerous other reasons why your body needs cholesterol. Therefore, it is necessary that you take in some cholesterol through your diet. But, how much cholesterol per day can you consume?
The answer to this question is not as simple as just giving you a number. The first thing you must do is find out what your current cholesterol reading is. The amount that you can consume through your diet will depend on if you have healthy levels or if your levels are too high.
First, lets examine what the diet of a healthy person with cholesterol readings of 200-239 mg/dL. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has recommended a diet named the Step I diet which was created in 1984:
Step I diet for healthy people that have cholesterol levels of 200-239 mg/dL
- 30% of less of your total calories should come from fat.
- Saturated fats should total no more than 10% of your total calories.
- Cholesterol consumption should be 300 mg or less.
When the Step I diet was created, a second diet called the Step II diet was created for people that have cholesterol readings of 240 mg/dL or higher, or have previously had a heart attack. However, there has been a new recommendation released in 2001. This new plan is called the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet. While the Step I diet is still recommended for healthy people that have levels of 200-239 mg/dL, the TLC diet replaces the Step II diet. This new diet has guidelines that are more specific about where you calories should come from:
TLC diet for people that have cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or higher, or have had a previous heart attack
- 25-35% of your total calories should come from fat.
- The fat is then broken down into:
- 7% or less of your total calories should come from saturated fat.
- 10% or less of your total calories should come from polyunsaturated fat.
- 10% or less of your total calories should come from monounsaturated fat.
- 50-60% of your total calories should come from carbohydrates.
- 15% of your total calories should come from protein.
If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol your doctor should recommend one of these two diets for you. Following these diets is not too tough, but it will take some time and work to figure out what you can eat and how to put it all together. The first person you should discuss your diet with is your doctor. If you continue to struggle figuring out how to make your diet fit in the constraints and also be pleasing to you there may be help available through local dietitians. You can get contacts at your local gym, YMCA, or community center. The American Dietetic Association is also a great resource for finding a local dietetic. Not only will these trained professionals be familiar with how much cholesterol per day you can consume, but they have a plethora of examples for each of your daily meals.
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