Make Over My Meal : Battling high cholesterol

The Baltimore Sun

He's an office worker who runs at least 30 miles a week and has already logged marathons in 38 states. She's an artist who spends much of her day on her feet preparing for shows -- with breaks to walk the dog.

They're slim and healthy 50- somethings. But, to their utter annoyance, they both have high cholesterol.

Kelly Kietzke and Diane Getty of South Baltimore know they can't overcome their genes. They could re-evaluate their diets. But what to strip? What to add? Their meals already seemed pretty healthful.

So they volunteered for The Sun's Make Over My Meal series, and we asked a registered dietitian and personal trainer to help.

During the day, Kevin S. Grodnitzky serves as the dietitian for Total Healthcare Inc., which runs nonprofit health clinics in Baltimore. He freelances his nutritional counseling, personal training, workshop and writing services on the side. He also has a fitness and nutrition blog called

He had the couple keep a log of their meals for a week to learn about their habits and preferences. He also collected some health information before we went to their house to do some cooking.

"You're both eating pretty healthy," he said. But he noted a little too much meat and eggs and not enough fruit and vegetables -- which, to most people's surprise, should be about half of what they eat.

"There are a couple of things you could do differently," he said. "You could swap out some things to get your numbers down. You could try some new foods."

High cholesterol is not something to ignore. Dietary cholesterol is found in eggs, shellfish and other foods, but blood cholesterol is largely made in the liver, from the saturated fats found mostly in animal products, including whole milk. Some is necessary to function, but too much LDL, or bad cholesterol, can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease.

Yet HDL, or good cholesterol, found in olive oil, nuts and avocados among other foods, is protective of the heart and arteries.

Getty does the cooking for the pair and said she would consider cutting back on some pleasures as she popped a tray of spinach balls into the oven.

She knew the green appetizer-sized gems were not exactly health food, despite having a leafy vegetable in their name. But they have served as dinner, along with a salad.

They are filled with margarine, cheese and eggs. Offenders all, according to Grodnitzky.

Stick margarine comes with harmful trans fats -- liquid oil infused with hydrogen to increase shelf life -- and should not be consumed at all, he said. Butter, like other products with saturated fats, should be kept to a minimum. Eggs are high in dietary cholesterol.

(He said to read the product's label for government recommended daily values. Less than 5 percent of a day's worth of fat, cholesterol and sodium is considered low. More than 20 percent is considered high.)

Better substitutes are olive oil, canola oil and soft tub margarine or sprays with unsaturated or very little saturated fat.

As for the cheese, he said some food purists wouldn't consider low-fat or soy cheese, which he recommends. So he said don't completely abstain, but consume lightly.

The jury is still out on the dangers of eggs, he said. Some say the protein is valuable. But, for a couple trying to cut their cholesterol numbers, he said, egg whites and egg substitutes are better. Kietzke and Getty should each aim for less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day, and one egg has more than that.

As he talked, Grodnitzky and Getty began measuring, chopping and combining ingredients for a spicy red-lentil dish to serve over quick-cooking, whole-grain quinoa, along with a side salad containing apples and nuts.

The kitchen began to smell of the garlic, chile flakes and red lentil as their new meal simmered on the stove.

Grodnitzky noted the lentil dish was low in saturated fat and had no trans fats or cholesterol. There was a good amount of protein and carbs -- making it a filling meal and an appropriate one for such active people.

By the time the food was done, Kietzke and Getty already had ideas about making some changes.

The pork they like may have to go. A chop has 27 percent of the standard daily value of cholesterol.

They've already cut out a lot of cheese, but they could limit meat to once or twice a week and make more fish. And they could swap more whole fruit at lunch for the orange juice at breakfast that's lacking cholesterol-lowering fiber.

They could increase the vegetables called for in every recipe. Getty said she'd put even more spinach in the lentil dish.

Kietzke thought it was a matter of changing some habits, committing to reading food labels and maybe keeping a daily log so they know how much cholesterol they're consuming. It's this or cholesterol-lowering drugs, he said.

Getty agreed.

"The kids are gone from the house, and we have access to good markets," said Getty. "I do all the cooking. It wouldn't be that hard to do better."

Battling cholesterol

Tips from registered dietitian Kevin S. Grodnitzky for lowering cholesterol and improving heart health:

Consume no trans fats and reduce saturated fats.

Keep cholesterol under 200 milligrams a day.

Swap saturated fats (butter) for unsaturated ones (olive and canola oil).

Eat more omega-3 fats (salmon, bluefin tuna).

Get more fiber (fruit, vegetables, whole grains).

Eat more nuts (peanuts, almonds).

Look for phytosterols, or plant chemicals (fruit, vegetable, grains).

Exercise (a 30-minute walk equals about 150 calories burned).

Give soy a chance (tofu, soy milk).

[Meredith Cohn]

Spicy Red Lentils With Spinach

Serves 3

4 cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon red-chile flakes

2 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)

1 cup red lentils

1/2 cup orange juice

1 1/2 cups water

5 ounces baby spinach (fresh or frozen)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or Bragg liquid amino acids to taste)

freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large sauce pot over medium-low heat, saute the garlic and chile flakes in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lentils and stir to coat with oil. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the orange juice and water. Simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and continue to simmer until tender, about 2 minutes. Season with up to 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt and ground pepper to taste. Pour spicy lentils with spinach over quinoa and serve. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the individual portions.

Adapted from Nutrition Action, which provided nutritional analysis

Per serving, about 1 cup (without quinoa): 350 calories, 18 grams protein, 11 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 49 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams fiber, 0 grams cholesterol, 280 milligrams sodium

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