High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Therefore, one major step to lowering your risk for either of these conditions, is to understand and manage your cholesterol levels. Fortunately, a diet aimed at controlling your cholesterol levels doesn’t have to involve removing all of your favourite foods such as eggs, chocolate or cheese. In fact the previous notion that dietary cholesterol directly leads to high blood cholesterol has now been shown to not be the case. Instead, it’s important to manage the intake of foods that contribute to cholesterol build up.
Cholesterol In The Body
There are many types of cholesterol in the body and all are important for many processes including maintaining cell wall integrity, building and transporting hormones and insulating nerve cells. The two types to be aware of are LDL (low density lipids) and HDL (high density lipids). LDL is often called ‘bad cholesterol’ as high levels in the blood contribute to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular problems. On the other hand, HDL is referred to as the ‘good cholesterol’ as it has been shown to have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease and can also lower levels of LDL. The key to healthy cholesterol levels is therefore not to eliminate cholesterol from the body entirely, but to maintain the correct HDL:LDL ratio.
Luckily, a few simple changes in your diet can be enough to lower your blood cholesterol by as much as 20% over the course of just three months. Dr Malhotra, an interventional cardiology specialist at Croydon University Hospital, London, encourages adopting a Mediterranean diet consisting mostly of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, olive oil and fish to improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. “An ounce of prevention saves a pound of cure” says Dr. Wendy Snell, a private GP at London clinic Blossoms Healthcare. Including the following foods in your diet can have a significant impact on your blood cholesterol levels.
1) Smart Foods
This refers to foods aimed specifically at lowering your blood LDL cholesterol levels and includes foods such as Flora Pro-activ and Benecol yoghurts. These foods contain stanols and sterols, naturally occurring substances that block the absorption of cholesterol in the gut. The recommended amount of products high in stanols and sterols is 2g per day. However, for maximum effect, the full amount should be consumed alongside the largest meal of your day. ‘A shot with your morning coffee or little bits of margarine through the day will not produce the same benefits,’ says Catherine Collins, dietician at St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust.
2) High-fibre foods
Fibre is not easily digested and absorbed in our gut and as it passes along our digestive system it binds to, and takes with it, cholesterol meaning less is available to be absorbed. Saturated fats have also been shown to have a lower absorption rate in the presence of fibre. In addition, fibre itself has been shown to protect and strengthen our arteries as well as help maintain a healthy weight. Wholegrain, raw fruit and vegetables, beans and legumes are foods high in fibre. The simple act of swapping white bread with a wholegrain variety is an easy and unnoticeable first step to introducing more fibre to your diet.
Oatmeal contains a substance called beta-glucan that gives oats their paste-like texture. As this passes through the intestines it can bind to cholesterol in the gut and limit the amount available for uptake. Porridge and other oatmeal based cereals also leave you feeling full for longer meaning you are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods throughout the day and can maintain a healthy weight.
Walnuts and almonds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and are known to keep blood vessels healthy and elasticated. However, as with all foods, this doesn’t mean you can overindulge. Eating large portions can lead to weight issues and obesity which will increase your risk for heart disease. The key is finding a healthy balance.
Soya products such as milk, yoghurt and tofu have all been shown to help maintain healthy levels of blood cholesterol. Soya is thought to assist the liver in removing LDL from the blood stream and thus helps keep levels low. In addition, replacing dairy and meat with soya in your diet may also decrease your intake of saturated fats.
6) Healthy oils and fats
Many fats and butters have a high amount of saturated and trans-fats, which contribute to high LDL levels . In contrast, mono- and polyunsaturated fats such as virgin olive oils and rapeseed oil have been shown to be beneficial in maintaining healthy arteries by strengthening artery walls and protecting them from LDL-induced inflammation – a major risk factor associated with cardiovascular disease.
Foods aren’t the only option to lower cholesterol levels. Stopping smoking, keeping active and limiting alcohol consumption are all ways you can lead a healthier lifestyle and reduce the risk of developing serious, life-threatening cardiovascular complications.
Italian expat living in London and I am interested in gardening, wellbeing and healthy living. He has previously published on health online magazines and blogs such as Laura Cipullo Diet blog, Pings of Health and HealthMeUp.