Cholesterol: Get the Facts and Take Control

What is cholesterol and how does it impact my body? As a registered dietitian, those are two questions I’m commonly asked. Hopefully this post will help you better understand cholesterol and its effects.

Cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood. Our bodies manufacture cholesterol. The waxy substance is also found naturally in animal foods, such as eggs, cheese and shellfish. We need it to help digest other foods and to make hormones and vitamin D, but too much of it can cause health concerns.

Approximately 17% of Americans have high cholesterol for a variety of reasons, most of which can be controlled. If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can harden and stick to your artery walls, causing them to narrow and result in a condition known as atherosclerosis. Clots can then form, further blocking the narrow arteries, and causing a heart attack. Eating a healthy diet, mostly plant foods, is one way to reduce the buildup of this fatty substance in your artery walls. High cholesterol levels – above 200 mg/dL or higher – can lead to heart disease.

To avoid having elevated cholesterol, make the following lifestyle adjustments.

  • Eat a diet that is low in saturated and trans fats.
  • Reduce your sodium intake.
  • Eat only enough calories each day to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit your carbohydrate intake. Complex carbohydrates are best: whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise daily. Just 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise like biking, walking or swimming can help lower cholesterol.
  • If you smoke – QUIT!
  • Clean up your diet and prepare, cook and eat more of the foods that nature provides like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, peas and legumes. Eating a variety of these plant foods will ensure you receive plenty of nutrition, while still keeping your cholesterol intake to a minimum.

Take control and act now to lower your cholesterol and decrease your risk of heart disease!

–          Liz Erker, RD


Lighten Up!

Spring has finally arrived, and so have the veggies!  Let’s stick with the theme of eating cleanly and lightening up those meals by incorporating fresh, vibrant vegetables into more of our meals.  A tasty trick to eating lighter this spring is to substitute hearty starches, such as pasta, with nutrient rich vegetables – and I am not talking about salads!  While salads can be wonderfully nutritious, let’s think “outside the box” and get creative with other, highly nutritious vegetables to create easy, one-dish meals that will leave you feeling light and completely satisfied!


A perfect example of a light, healthy meal is the following recipe from the July 2006 issue of Parade Magazine. I have modified it from the original recipe as I always add quite a bit of spinach for extra nutrients, as well as a beautiful bright green color. Once the dish is done, I serve it over a small spoonful of some whole grain, such as barley, couscous or brown rice.

5 large tomatoes
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp fresh pepper
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp (peeled & deveined), rinsed & patted dry
4 handfuls of fresh spinach
1/2 cup parsley
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup feta cheese

Preheat oven to 450. Place tomatoes in 9 x 13″ baking dish. Spoon oil & garlic over tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Place on top rack of oven & roast for 20 minutes. Remove baking dish from oven & stir in shrimp, spinach, parsley & lemon juice. Sprinkle with feta. Place back in oven for 10-15 minutes.

APPROXIMATE NUTRITION: calories 251, CHO 11g, fat 14g, protein 23 g, Na 479 mg

Some of my favorite vegetables I use in place of starches are zucchini, spaghetti squash, cabbage, eggplant, beets, and French beans. If you’re looking for new ways to use these ingredients, go to and to find many easy recipes for each of the items listed.  Whether they’re from the grocery store, the local farmer’s market or your own backyard, make a point to incorporate vegetables into your meals this spring!

– Liz Erker, RD

Good, Clean Cooking: Not Another Chore

I enjoy everything about cooking: the smell, taste, and texture of the ingredients.  Plus I know the foods I choose to cook with actually benefit my overall health! I love to dig into my fridge, freezer, pantry and spice cabinet and get into the groove of creating a colorful, nutritious mini-feast. That being said, I don’t like to play in the kitchen every night. Many nights, time is an issue.

Here are some tips to help you create fast, nutrient-dense meals to get you through the week, without spending every night slicing and dicing.

1. Be Organized

On the weekend, make a double batch of hearty soup or lasagna and freeze half. Whole wheat noodles, and veggies such as tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms and diced peppers, will give the dish a nutritional ‘bump’. Defrost in the fridge on a day when you know you’ll need it. When you get home, heat and serve with some additional veggies!

2. Stay Stocked

If you’ve ever had a hectic day and are unsure what to cook, you may end up sacrificing nutrition and taste, for speed. The trick is to keep your pantry well-stocked with healthy, convenient foods you can throw together in a hurry.

–          Cans of beans for making soups, salads, tacos or quesadillas

–          Tomatoes, pesto or olives for a sauce in which to simmer frozen fish

–          Dried lentils: add water, veggies and curry spices and you’ll have a nice soup in 30-45 minutes

–          Canned wild salmon, tuna or smoked trout to mix with panko-style seasoned bread crumbs and an egg to prepare easy fish cakes

*If you purchase high quality prepared foods, you won’t feel guilty about a meal of sandwiches and canned soup every now and then!

3. Embrace Salads

Not every meal has to consist of an entree and several side dishes. A substantial salad makes a great, quick meal. Just chop some veggies, toss in cherry tomatoes, peppers, carrots, nuts and dried fruit with your favorite protein and your dinner’s ready!
Some great combos include canned or wild salmon, smoked trout or tuna plus soft mozzarella cubes, hard-boiled egg, grilled chicken, fried tofu chunks plus peanuts, or flank steak plus blue cheese crumbles.

4. Grow a Garden

Maintain a small patio-type garden. Try planting a few herbs, lettuce or tomato plants in containers and you’ll have produce so fresh and tasty that no additional preparation is necessary.

Sliced homegrown tomatoes and fresh lettuce will compliment your grilled burger nicely. Fresh basil is a wonderful addition to any pasta dish!

–          Liz Erker, RD

The Versatility & Simplicity of Nutritious Foods

The “Taste of Eating Right” involves preparing simple and nutritious meals and snacks which contain wholesome ingredients that benefit your overall health.

There is no need to spend hours preparing nutritious and delicious foods. If you stick with the theme of Eating Simply, you will not only be eating for health, but you will be saving time in the kitchen and retraining your taste buds to yearn for the taste of good, clean eating.

I found this recipe for Soft + Chewy Sugar-Free Baked Granola Bars and have prepared these bars quite a few times, changing it a bit each time to fit the ingredients I have on hand. For instance, the last time I prepared it, I didn’t have pumpkin seeds, so I substituted pecans.

Bars Mixture Blog Size  Bars Blog Size

Enjoy your time in the kitchen surrounded by the bounty of healthy ingredients which benefit your body!

–          Liz Erker, RD