A heart-healthy eating plan can help you manage your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. The simple cooking tips below will help you prepare tasty, heart-healthy meals that improve your cholesterol by reducing excess saturated fat and trans fat.
Reduce saturated fat in meat and poultryThe American Heart Association recommends a dietary pattern that emphasizes poultry and limits red meat. The amount of saturated fat in meats can vary widely, depending on the cut and how it's prepared. Here are some ways to reduce the saturated fat in meat:
- Select lean cuts of meat with minimal visible fat. Lean beef cuts include the round, chuck, sirloin or loin. Lean pork cuts include the tenderloin or loin chop. Lean lamb cuts come from the leg, arm and loin.
- Buy "choice" or "select" grades rather than "prime." Select lean or extra lean ground beef.
- Trim all visible fat from meat before cooking.
- Broil rather than pan-fry meats such as hamburger, lamb chops, pork chops and steak.
- Use a rack to drain off fat when broiling, roasting or baking. Instead of basting with drippings, keep meat moist with wine, fruit juices or an acceptable oil-based marinade.
- Cook a day ahead of time. Stews, boiled meat, soup stock or other dishes in which fat cooks into the liquid can be refrigerated. Then, remove the hardened fat from the top.
- When a recipe calls for browning the meat first, try browning it under the broiler instead of in a pan.
- Eat chicken and turkey rather than duck and goose, which are higher in fat. Choose white meat most often when eating poultry.
- Remove the skin from chicken or turkey before cooking. If your poultry dries out too much, first try basting with wine, fruit juices or an acceptable oil-based marinade. Or leave the skin on for cooking and remove it before eating.
- Limit processed meats such as sausage, bologna, salami and hot dogs. Many processed meats — even those with "reduced fat" labels — are high in calories and saturated fat. Often they’re high in sodium, too. Read labels carefully and choose processed meats only occasionally.
Eat more fish
Fish can be fatty or lean, but it's still low in saturated fat. Choose oily fish such as salmon, trout and herring, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Prepare fish baked, broiled, grilled or boiled rather than breaded and fried, and without added salt, saturated fat and trans fat. Shrimp and crawfish have more cholesterol than most other types of seafood, but they’re lower in total fat and saturated fat than most meats and poultry.
Eat less meat
Try meatless meals featuring vegetables or beans. For example, think eggplant lasagna, a big grilled portobello mushroom on a bun instead of a burger, or beans-n-weenies without the weenies and salt. Or think of meat as a condiment in casseroles, stews, low-sodium soups and spaghetti — use it sparingly and just for flavor rather than as a main ingredient.
Cook fresh vegetables the heart-healthy wayTry cooking vegetables in a tiny bit of vegetable oil and add a little water during cooking if needed, or use a vegetable oil spray. Just 1 to 2 teaspoons of oil is enough for a package of plain frozen vegetables without sauce or seasonings that serves four. Place in a skillet with tight cover, season and cook over a very low heat until the vegetables are done.
Add herbs and spices to make vegetables even tastier. For example, these combinations add new and subtle flavors:
- Rosemary with peas, cauliflower and squash
- Oregano with zucchini
- Dill with green beans
- Marjoram with Brussels sprouts, carrots and spinach
- Basil with tomatoes
Start with a small quantity (1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon to a package of frozen vegetables), then let your own and your family's taste be your guide. Chopped parsley and chives, sprinkled on just before serving, also enhance the flavor of many vegetables.
Use liquid vegetable oils in place of solid fatsLiquid vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean and olive can often be used instead of solid fats such as butter, lard or shortening. If you must use margarine, try the soft or liquid kind. Use a little liquid oil to:
- Pan-fry fish and poultry.
- Saute vegetables.
- Make cream sauces and soups using low-fat or fat-free milk.
- Add to whipped or scalloped potatoes using low-fat or fat-free milk.
- Brown rice for Spanish, curried or stir-fried rice.
- Cook dehydrated potatoes and other prepared foods that call for fat to be added.
- Make pancakes or waffles.
Puree fruits and veggies for bakingYou can replace the oil in muffin, cookie, cake and snack bar recipes with pureed fruits or veggies to give your treats an extra healthy boost. For many recipes, use the specified amount of puree instead of oil. Check the mix's package or your cookbook's substitutions page for other conversions. You can:
- Use applesauce in spice muffins or oatmeal cookies.
- Include bananas in breads and muffins.
- Try zucchini in brownies.
Lower dairy fats
- Low-fat (1%) or fat-free (skim) milk can be used in many recipes in place of whole milk or half-and-half. Some dishes like puddings may result in a softer set. You can also use low-fat, low-sodium cottage cheese, part-skim milk mozzarella or ricotta and other low-fat, low-sodium cheeses with little or no change in consistency.
Sauces and gravies
- Let your cooking liquid cool, then remove the hardened fat before making gravy. Or use a fat separator to pour off the good liquid from cooking stock, leaving the fat behind.
Increase fiber and whole grains
- Toast and crush or cube fiber-rich whole-grain bread to make breadcrumbs, stuffing or croutons.
- Replace the breadcrumbs in your meatloaf with uncooked oatmeal.
- Serve whole fruit at breakfast in place of juice.
- Use brown rice instead of white rice and try whole grain pasta.
- Add lots of colorful veggies to your salad — carrots, broccoli and cauliflower are high in fiber and give your salad a delicious crunch
This content was last reviewed April 2017.