Dietitian and healthful-eating columnist Ellie Krieger answered nutrition questions in a recent online chat, explaining fat, cholesterol, plant-based diets and more. Here is an edited excerpt of some of her best advice.
Good and bad cholesterol: It is important to differentiate between the cholesterol in food and the cholesterol that is made in your body, a.k.a. blood cholesterol. Our body needs cholesterol to function properly — it packages it into low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or good cholesterol). Some blood cholesterol is important for health, but a high blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease.
The interesting thing is the cholesterol we eat is not the main cause of high blood cholesterol; our consumption of trans and saturated fat is.
So to keep your blood cholesterol in a healthy zone, keep trans fat to a minimum (ideally have none) and limit saturated fat (the fat from animal products).
Watching out for fat in eggs and shellfish: Two whole eggs have as much saturated fat as a small steak, so even if you are just watching saturated fat and not cholesterol, you want to avoid overdoing eggs.
Shellfish is a bit of a different story and can be eaten more liberally because it has very little fat.
Plant-based diet benefits: The term “plant-based diet” is thrown around a lot these days, but the definition is different depending on whom you ask. Many define it as a vegetarian or vegan diet. Others, like me, define it as a way of eating that consists mostly of plant foods but also may include some meat. This is the way I like to eat.
The benefits of eating lots of plants are overwhelming: reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, lowering blood pressure, improving digestion and more. Not to mention — from a culinary perspective — plants are colorful, flavorful and exciting.
But I want to emphasize the importance of eating quality, minimally processed plant foods as opposed to ultra-processed ones. Technically a person could be eating white bagels with jam all day and claim to be eating a “plant-based diet.” Stick with lots of vegetables, whole fruit, whole grains, beans, nuts seeds and healthful oils to get the big plant benefits.
A quick, healthful dinner trick: Rotisserie chicken can be a great help for an easy weeknight dinner and might mean the difference between dinner at home and much more greasy take-out.
The meat itself is very healthful, but the chickens are basted in fat on the spit, so it is a good idea to not eat much of the skin.
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