Tips for Lowering Your Dietary Fat Content

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

People whose blood cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels are undesirably high should consume a diet that is relatively low in total fat and saturated fat. To do this systematically, it is necessary to become fully aware of what you are eating. This means getting into the habit of checking labels to determine the amount of cholesterol and the amount and type of fat. You should also pay attention to the "hidden" fats found in processed foods such as cookies, crackers, and snack cakes, and the kinds of fats and oils used in their own cooking.

The next step is to make substitutions. For example, leaner cuts of beef (select or choice rather than prime) should be used, and consumption of fish, poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, and other legumes should be increased. Foods high in complex carbohydrates-such as whole grains, beans, and vegetables-can be made the "main dish," with small amounts of red meats and cheeses becoming the "side dishes." Mixed dishes such as stews, casseroles, and pasta and rice meals can combine small amounts of meat with other foods, such as grains or vegetables.

Finally, evaluate your progress by having your blood cholesterol tested within a few months and then periodically as recommended by the professional who is guiding them. The goal should be a gradual but steady reduction in your total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels.

Practical Tips for Lowring Fat Content

Dietary Evaluation

Following above guidelines will reduce the fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol content of the diet and should come close to the fat and saturated-fat levels recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program. However, the only way to determine how much fat and cholesterol are actually consumed is to calculate the amounts contained in one's daily diet. The MyPyramidTracker Web site offers a practical way to do this. After setting up a password-protected account, the user can construct a favorite-food list and enter data each day to determine the overall fat percentage as well as how one's diet compares to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. To better understand their diet over time, registered users can track what they eat for up to 1 year. There is also a physical activity assessment that is accompanied by detailed advice.

Computer programs are also available for determining fat and cholesterol intake. Those containing large databases, including nutritional analyses of brand-name products and fast food items, generally provide the most accurate information. Computer programs are accessible to consumers at certain clinics and through nutrition professionals in private practice. Some are also marketed directly to the public for home use. The USDA Web site contains a food composition database. Despite these aids, some consumers wishing to design a diet that is significantly low in fat would be wise to consult a registered dietitian or other professional nutritionist.

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The tip list was originally prepared with the help of Mark A. Kantor, Ph.D., Associate Professor & Extension Specialist, University of Maryland Department of Nutrition and Food Science.

This article was revised on April 6, 2011.