Amy Keller, MS, RDN, LD, is a dietitian and celiac support group leader from Bellefontaine, Ohio.
Q: I was diagnosed with celiac three years ago and have done well with the gluten-free diet, but at my recent physical, I found out I have high cholesterol. I’m not overweight, so I was surprised. I don’t want to start taking cholesterol medication if I can avoid it. Are there some things I can try with my diet first?
A: Making changes to your diet is certainly a good start in regard to controlling your cholesterol. A heart-healthy gluten-free diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, lean protein and healthy fat. Try to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables—fresh, frozen and even canned are all good choices. If you choose frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, avoid sauces or syrups because they add sugar, fat and calories. Choose gluten-free whole grains whenever possible. For example, swap out brown rice for white rice and quinoa-based pasta for rice-based pasta. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain dietary fiber, which is beneficial for those with high cholesterol levels.
Choose lean proteins at each meal, such as salmon and chicken. You might even consider going “meatless” a few meals a week, utilizing proteins such as beans or nuts. Olive oil is a great choice for added fat. You can even use it in baking. Choose extra virgin olive oil for the lightest flavor. Drizzle it on vegetables and meats for added flavor and to boost your heart health.
Added sugars and trans fats are both detrimental to your heart. Limit your consumption of regular soda and other sweetened beverages, as well as gluten-free goodies like cakes and brownies. Remember that just because it’s gluten free doesn’t necessarily make it a healthy choice. Avoid foods that contain unhealthy trans fats—the words “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients list indicate the presence of these fats that raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels. Finally, get moving. Exercise is great for raising good cholesterol levels. Walking briskly for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week is a helpful, realistic goal.