My husband has high cholesterol, and we are trying to cook lighter. We are at a loss as to what should really be included in a low-cholesterol diet. We know we should eat more fruits and vegetables and stay away from a lot of red meat. —T.L., Merrill, Wisconsin
You're not the only one who is confused about cholesterol—and for good reason! There are actually two different types. Your body makes some of its own cholesterol naturally. And there is dietary cholesterol, which comes from the food you eat. This is the type of cholesterol that can be controlled, at least partially, by watching your diet. Only foods of animal origin contain cholesterol. Egg yolks and organ meats are especially high in cholesterol. And in varying amounts, meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products and animal fats, such as butter or lard, all contain cholesterol, too. On the other hand, foods of plant origin, such as vegetables and fruits, beans and peas, grains and seeds, contain no cholesterol. However, when vegetables, grains, etc., are combined with other ingredients in recipes, the end product may contain cholesterol. This happens when grains are combined with eggs in baked goods, or when cheese and butter are added to vegetable dishes. Other examples include refried beans made with lard, greens cooked with bacon, and muffins made with butter and egg yolks. Depending on the recipe, the amount of cholesterol per serving will vary. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has not come up with a suggested guideline for cholesterol as it has with many nutrients by setting a daily Recommended Dietary Allowance. However, the American Dietetic Association recommends that healthy individuals consume no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol on a daily basis. Anyone who has been diagnosed with high cholesterol should consult with a doctor or health care professional for a list of high-cholesterol foods to avoid. Sometimes even a carefully controlled diet cannot reduce cholesterol levels significantly. In that case, your doctor may recommend medication as well.