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During these difficult times, your healthy eating ambitions may have taken a back seat to other concerns. However, it is important to keep thinking about your heart health while in lockdown. Here are some simple, practical suggestions to help manage your cholesterol.

Principles

Although shopping may be more difficult and availability of our favourite foods may be more limited than usual, we can still stick to the general principles of healthy eating, with a few tweaks where necessary.

Meals should be based around carbohydrate foods such as rice, pasta, potatoes and bread, choosing wholegrain options where possible. To accompany them we need lean proteins – think chicken, fish, eggs, pulses such as beans, lentils and chickpeas, nuts and seeds. We should aim to consume two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily, for example salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout or herring. Canned versions are convenient options and also provide the omega-3 polyunsaturated fats that contribute to the normal function of the heart.

Fats are always an important consideration when thinking about cholesterol. We need to consume less of the bad saturated fats, which can raise cholesterol levels and replace these with unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), which can help us to manage our cholesterol levels.

Saturated fats are found in foods such as full fat dairy products (butter, cream, full-fat milk, cheese), fatty and processed meats, pastries, cakes, biscuits, and fatty snack foods. Unsaturated fats are found in foods such as vegetable oils and spreads, avocadoes, nuts and seeds.

Simple swaps you can make include swapping full fat milk for skimmed or semi-skimmed, choosing lean meats, poultry or fish instead of fatty meat products such as sausages or meat pies and replacing butter with an unsaturated spread.

Still aim to reach your 5 a day

When it comes to fruit and vegetables, it’s important to remember that frozen, canned and dried all count and are brilliant ways to help you reach at least five portions a day when it might be more difficult than usual to get fresh produce. Frozen peas are an essential frozen staple and there are some innovative solutions available now such as frozen chopped onion and garlic which can be handy to have in, as well as jars of olives and sundried tomatoes that last longer than those from the deli counter. Any leftover vegetables you may have can be cooked and frozen for a rainy day, to avoid any waste.

You may find that new businesses are springing up around your local area. You may be able to get a delivery of a fresh fruit and vegetable box straight to your door. These include local and seasonal produce and can inspire you to get creative with vegetables you wouldn’t normally choose. Variety and different colours of fruit and veg will help ensure you consume plenty of nutrients.

If you are able to visit a supermarket or have a home delivery, choosing fruit and vegetables that keep longer e.g. carrots, onions, cabbage may mean you can wait longer between trips. Tinned pears or peaches make a tasty (if retro) dessert to have ready in the store cupboard. Choose those in juice instead of syrup if you can.
There is more information about what counts as a portion of fruit and vegetables here.

Shop and store food carefully

It is advisable to do a thorough check through your cupboards before you get your groceries to ensure you buy the right amount to last until your next shop. Planning meals for the week or fortnight ahead also helps you choose wisely.

Long lasting foods such as rice, pasta and noodles are excellent store cupboard ingredients. Choose the wholegrain varieties wherever possible. You may find these are more readily available and they can make a significant contribution to fibre levels. You may also like to try a different grain such as couscous or quinoa.

Remember you can freeze loaves of bread, wholemeal pittas and bagels (top tip is to slice them before you put them in the freezer to pop straight into the toaster when you need them) for easy lunches.

Look out for Part 2 where we will explain what else you can do to specifically help manage your cholesterol and provide some hints on maintaining healthy habits.