This article clarifies the basics of cholesterol and provides cholesterol diet tips. There are many practical ideas for cholesterol lowering foods as well as cholesterol lowering supplements.
Unhealthy cholesterol levels increase your risk of heart disease, which is why experts recommend that you keep your cholesterol levels within the healthy range.
So, lets take a quick recap of some cholesterol basics.
Cholesterol plays a vital role in the formation of cell membranes, a number of hormones, and vitamin D. The body therefore closely regulates the supply of cholesterol in the blood.
The bloodstream delivers cholesterol to cells throughout the body. Like oil and water, fats and blood don’t mix. If your liver or intestine simply dumped fats such as cholesterol into your blood, they would congeal into unusable globs. The body therefore packages cholesterol with proteins into capsules known as lipoproteins.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells of the body. Excess LDL cholesterol in the blood is deposited as plaque in the walls of the blood vessels, that’s why LDL has been dubbed the “bad” cholesterol.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL), on the other hand, helps lower your risk of heart disease, so it’s known as the “good” cholesterol. HDL scours the cholesterol from blood vessel walls and carries it back to the liver. The liver then either uses the excess cholesterol to make bile acids, which are essential to digestion, or eliminates it from the body.
Triglycerides, another form of fat circulating in the bloodstream, make up most of the fat you eat and serve as valuable sources of energy. But as with cholesterol, you can have too much of a good thing: high levels of triglycerides appear to increase the chance of developing heart disease.
If you have high total cholesterol, it is important to know what type of cholesterol is high. It is better to have a normal or low LDL and high HDL cholesterol than a high LDL and a low HDL. Your doctor can perform this simple test.
When the blood cholesterol level is tested, the total cholesterol, as well as the different types of cholesterol is determined. It is necessary to fast for 10-12 hours before laboratory testing. A blood test known as a lipoprotein profile can measure your LDL, HDL and tryglycerides.
The following are target values:
Total cholesterol <5.0 mmol/l Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL (lower numbers are better)
LDL cholesterol <3.0 mmol/l 70-130 mg/dL (lower numbers are better)
HDL cholesterol >1.2 mmol/l more than 40-60 mg/dL (high numbers are better)
Triglycerides: 10-150 mg/dL (lower numbers are better)
The target value for high-risk individuals (overweight, hypertensive, family history, smoker) should generally be lower.
You’re more likely to have high cholesterol that can lead to heart disease if you have any of these risk factors:
• Smoking. Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them likely to accumulate fatty deposits. Smoking may also lower your level of HDL, or “good,” cholesterol.
• Obesity. Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk of high cholesterol. Your BMI can be calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres therefore kg/(m)2.
• Poor diet. Foods that are high in cholesterol, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, will increase your total cholesterol. Eating saturated fat, found in animal products, and trans fats, found in some commercially baked cookies and crackers, also can raise your cholesterol level.
• Lack of exercise. Exercise helps boost your body’s HDL “good” cholesterol while lowering your LDL “bad” cholesterol. Not getting enough exercise puts you at risk of high cholesterol.
• High blood pressure. Increased pressure on your artery walls damages your arteries, which can speed the accumulation of fatty deposits.
• Diabetes. High blood sugar contributes to higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. High blood sugar also damages the lining of your arteries.
• Family history of heart disease. If a parent or sibling developed heart disease before age 55, high cholesterol levels place you at a greater than average risk of developing heart disease.
Cholesterol lowering foods
Don’t be fooled into thinking that foods labeled “cholesterol free” or “low cholesterol” are necessarily heart-healthy. Nor that foods containing cholesterol are heart-risky. The reality is a little more complicated.
Did you know that foods containing high levels of saturated fat or trans fats, such as potato crisps and pastries, can boost cholesterol levels in your body much more than cholesterol-containing foods such as eggs?!
How can cholesterol levels be lowered? Although drug treatment can be considered, the first step should always be dietary intervention. The main focus point should be on lowering fat intake, especially saturated fat, intake. It is important to note that there are many different types of fat, not just the visible fats, i.e. the fats that you can see clearly such as oil, butter, margarine, chicken skin and fats on meat. Keep in mind the invisible fats such as those found in milk, cream, cheese, cakes, pastries, biscuits, snack foods, fast foods and sausage meats. These tend to be saturated fats and usually make up more than half the average person’s fat intake.
Top 5 tips to lower cholesterol
1. Eat more unsaturated fats (such as olive and canola oils) and fewer saturated and trans fats (such as butter, margarine, and shortening found in many processed and commercial baked goods).
2. Eat more colourful, nutrient-loaded fruits and vegetables.
3. Eat more fibre-filled whole grains, and fewer refined carbohydrates (white starches).
4. Eat more heart-healthy proteins such as fish, poultry, beans, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and less red meat.
5. Eat more potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, and less sodium-rich processed food.
The facts on fats …Reduce harmful fats and boost healthy fats.
Not-good-for-you fats: Saturated fats found in animals products such as meat, chicken, dairy (milk, cheese, cream , butter) and tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Trans fats found in highly processed hydrogenated oils and many confectionary or fried items such as pastries, biscuits, cakes, deep fried foods, etc.
We all know that chocolates, cakes and cookies are loaded with kilojoules and hidden fat. But what about your other favourite foods? Could hidden fats be lurking in them too? To ensure that you don’t sabotage your lower fat eating, watch out for hidden fats in these foods:
Muffins, croissants, rusks, biscuits, crisps, chocolates, health bars, instant soups, creamed soups, salad dressings, mayonnaise, pies, granolas, gravy, coffee creamers, nougat, ice cream, milkshakes, biltong, croutons, quiches, sausage, popcorn, nuts, etc.
Practical tips on how to reduce your fat intake and lower cholesterol:
When buying food
- Read labels. Look at the fat content. Choose mostly products with less than 3 g fat per 100 g.
- Meat is one of the primary sources of the less healthy saturated fat. Choose lean meat such as lean pork, lean beef and chicken without skin.
- Where possible, buy unprocessed meat, chicken and fish products, unless they are low in fat.
- Be careful of crumbed and battered products as these contain hidden fat.
- Buy tinned products in water or tomato rather than brine or oil.
- Choose fat free or low-fat dairy products such as fat free cottage cheese instead of regular cheese.
Food preparation (or ‘Fat proofing your meals):
- Always remove visible fat on meat or chicken before cooking. For instance, if there is fat on the meat, trim it off or if there is skin on the chicken, remove it.
- Use lower fat preparation methods such as grilling, baking or steaming rather than frying.
- Avoid frying. Use non-stick pans and non-stick spray. Fake fry when possible by pouring a little oil into your frying pan. Heat until liquid. Pick up pan and swirl around until oil coats the base of the pan. Pour out the remaining oil.
- Keep to the correct portion size. Meat or chicken portions should be equal to the size of the palm of your hand (90 g to 120 g).
Good-for-you fats: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as high-quality, cold-pressed, less processed, non-hydrogenated plant oils, avocado, olives, nuts and seeds, fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, pilchards and trout).
Give preference to the good-for-you unsaturated fats, but still manage their portion sizes! Ideally see a registered dietician for a personalised cholesterol lowering diet plan or menu.
Be colourful! Phytonutrients and antioxidants help to lower cholesterol and protect your heart!
Eat more colourful, nutrient-loaded fruits and vegetables. One way to tell if you are eating healthy is to look at your plate: how colourful is your food? Fruits and vegetables with deep, vibrant colours, like blueberries, tomatoes, and broccoli, contain phytonutrients, powerful plant compounds that are important to good health.
No single fruit or vegetable can provide every beneficial chemical, so eating a variety of colourful foods is key.
Fill up on fiber!
There are two basic types of fibre: insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble fibre is found in the skin, peels, and husks of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It passes through your digestive tract without breaking down and helps prevent constipation and other digestive disorders. Eating more fibre helps to fill you up without filling you out!
Soluble fibre is chiefly in oats, legumes (beans and peas) and fruit flesh. Soluble fibre decreases the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, reducing the risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol lowering supplements
Good health should NOT be a set of tablets to take but rather a set of responsibilities to meet – eating more fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, moderation in alcohol intake, not smoking and the prevention of obesity.
Watch out for advertisements and false claims that seduce you into believing that products can guarantee longevity, health, fitness and beauty.
Supplement a good all-round multivitamin and mineral that supplies on a daily basis:
1000 – 2000mg of vitamin C*
400mg of vitamin E
250mcg of beta-carotene
100mcg of selenium
25 – 50µg vitamin D
100% RDA and more of all the required vitamins and minerals
* A wide variety of practitioners use higher doses for vitamin C and magnesium safely and with good success.
• Magnesium assists with elevated blood pressure and provides energy to the heart muscle. People who
don’t take enough magnesium are at risk of a heart attack (500mg elemental per day)
• Co-Enzyme Q10 (60mg/day), especially if you’re on statin drugs (cholesterol lowering drugs)
• Omega 3 essential fatty acids (600-1000mg/day of EPA and DHA). This works out to 3000mg of salmon oil
per day or 3 tablespoons of cold pressed flaxseed oil daily.
• Use a good all-round antioxidant.
• Take low dose aspirin daily (1/4 tablet)
Another popular cholesterol-lowering supplement is red yeast rice. There is some evidence that red yeast rice can help lower your LDL cholesterol.
Sometimes healthy lifestyle choices, including supplements and other cholesterol-lowering products, aren’t enough. If your doctor prescribes medication to reduce your cholesterol, take it as directed while you continue to focus on a healthy lifestyle. As always, if you decide to take an herbal supplement, be sure to tell your doctor. The herbal supplement you take may interact with other medications you take.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this document is not intended to replace the attention or advice of a physician or other health care professional. Anyone who wishes to embark on any dietary, drug, exercise, or other lifestyle change that is intended to prevent or treat a specific disease should first consult a qualified health care professional