Delicious Lunch Ideas for Your Cholesterol-Lowering Diet

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

But try skipping lunch, and see how long it takes you (maybe until 3 p.m. or 3:30 p.m.?) to start eyeballing the vending machine or considering placing a fast-food delivery order. Either move will cause your waistline to expand, your wallet to shrink, and your cholesterol and triglyceride (blood fat) levels to climb.

In fact, there's no reason to skip lunch and every reason to pack a lunch when you're on a mission to lower your cholesterol. Some of the ideas below require more prep work than others, but learning how to set aside just a few minutes in the morning (or the night before) could be the health-altering move you've been searching for.

Plus, each of these ideas contains a "base" ingredient that you can build upon and personalize in countless ways—and your own way—as you banish high cholesterol from your lunchtime routine.

Tasty Sandwiches and Wraps

Chicken Tomato Wrap Sandwiches
Chicken Tomato Wrap Sandwiches. Linda Larsen

Sandwiches and wraps are easy lunches that you can prepare in a hurry, even on your busiest mornings. They can also be as nutritious as they are delicious. 

It's easy to make sandwiches and wraps heart-healthy; you just have to choose the right ingredients. Include such things as veggies, fruit, nuts, and chunks of chicken, tuna, or turkey. 

Do be careful about adding too much cheese, bacon, or certain condiments (such as mayonnaise or salad dressing). They could add fat and calories to your lunch.

Base ingredient: Tortillas, naan, or pita pockets. This is where you can derail your cholesterol-cutting goal if you're not careful. Choose wheat tortillas over white and corn over flour. Corn is a whole grain that is high in fiber and a true cholesterol-cutter.

Filling and Low-Fat Soups

Soups can be prepared quickly, and they can be filling, which helps prevent those mid-afternoon munchies. Plus, soups can serve as a side dish or represent the main course.

You can add your favorite veggies, spices, or whole grains to create delicious and healthy soups. It's a good idea to avoid heavy creams as they can derail your low-cholesterol diet. Stick with a lighter broth and load up on veggies and whole-grain pasta instead.

Homemade soup can be prepared in a large batch, either on the stove or in a slow cooker. It can be frozen flat in freezer bags for up to a month and then taken out to thaw overnight. Talk about making lunch prep a breeze.

Base ingredient: Broth or chicken stock, but don't stop there. Keep a container of what chefs call mirepoix—a  sautéed mixture of chopped celery, onions, and carrots—in the freezer, too. Then you bulk it up before you leave for the day with whatever you have on hand, like chopped chicken, wheat pasta, or vegetables.

Cholesterol-Friendly Pizzas

Some people avoid pizza because it's viewed as fattening and can raise cholesterol. It's true that certain pizza ingredients can be damaging to your waistline and lipid (fatty acid) levels. However, if you choose low-fat options, pizza can be a delicious, guilty pleasure for lunch (or dinner).

It all pivots on the ingredients. So load up on fresh vegetables (and maybe even fruit) and you may never reach for sausage or pepperoni as toppings again.

Or follow the procession toward Margherita pizza, which features tomatoes, fresh basil, salt, extra-virgin olive oil, and (only a smattering of) low-fat mozzarella cheese. (The simple recipe is said to honor the Italian flag, with tomatoes representing red, basil for green, and mozzarella for white).

Base ingredient: Cauliflower crust, which has become so popular that you can find it packaged, fresh, and frozen in grocery stores. Alternatively, try a chickpea or spaghetti squash crust for extra flavor and a coloring that will inspire double-takes.

Bountiful Bowls of Greens

Although salads can make a heart-healthy lunch, be careful with the ingredients you add. Poor choices may undermine your cholesterol-lowering diet.

Common culprits that could sabotage your diet include creamy dressings and buttery croutons. You don't necessarily need to eliminate them, but limiting their use is a good idea for a healthier heart. 

Look for alternatives like vinaigrettes and olive oil dressings. Rather than croutons, try a few nuts for a crispy crunch or opt for apple or pear slices. Legumes like lentils, chickpeas, and beans also make enticing salad toppings.

Base ingredient: Lettuce, of course. Or you may call them "greens." Whatever your preference, getting stuck in a rut with the same "foundation" is one of the reasons people lose interest in salads. Add flavor and texture by shaking up your salad routine with 15 outstanding choices you should easily find at your favorite grocer. (Note the number; 15 means you could have a different salad at work every day for three weeks.) In alphabetical (non-judgmental) order, try: arugula, Belgian endive, butterhead, curly endive, dandelion greens, escarole, frisée, green-leaf, iceberg, mache, mesclun, radicchio, red-leaf, romaine, and watercress.

Stuffed Avocados

Like many people, you may see an avocado and think "guacamole." By now, you may even have parlayed its soft, creamy texture as a sandwich/wrap spread. So since you're game, expand your repertoire by using avocados as a boat—a true vessel—for all kinds of tasty, low-cholesterol lunches.

It may make no difference to you that avocados are botanically a fruit but widely considered to be a vegetable. But you should be delighted to know that avocados can increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol while lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol.

Take full advantage of the avocado's sweet but savory flesh by filling it with seafood (shrimp, crab, or tuna), fruit (raisins, melon chunks, strawberries), or vegetables (tomatoes, onions, and maybe a spoonful of feta cheese). As tempted as you might be to top an avocado with a sunny-side-up egg, scramble two eggs with egg whites only. You may not even notice that you've sacrificed the yolk; you'll be having too much fun being the "captain" of your boat.

Base ingredient: Avocados, naturally, but not without a little effort. Start with a ripe avocado, slice it in half, and remove the pit. Scoop out some of the flesh to make room for your world-class filling. Then season the avocado by brushing it with a little lemon or lime juice before sprinkling it with salt and pepper.

By Jennifer Moll, PharmD
Jennifer Moll, MS, PharmD, is a pharmacist actively involved in educating patients about the importance of heart disease prevention.