Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced naturally by your liver and found in your blood. There are two types of cholesterol :low-density lipoprotein (LDL) - also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because it can add to the build-up of plaque (fatty deposits) in your arteries and increase your risk of getting heart disease and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) - also known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it can help to protect you against coronary heart disease.
Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly. But if you have too much in your blood, it can stick to the walls of your arteries and narrow or even block them. This puts you at risk for heart diseases. High cholesterol levels in your blood are mainly caused by eating foods high in saturated fats and trans-fats.
If your cholesterol is creeping upward, your doctor has probably told you that diet and exercise could help to bring it down. And if you’d prefer to make just one change at a time to lower your cholesterol naturally, you might want to begin with your diet. There are several foods which are helpful in lowering your cholesterol. Read on...
Oats: An easy first step to lowering your cholesterol is having a bowl of oatmeal cereal for breakfast. (Take old-fashioned oatmeal, not the quick-cooking versions). It gives you 1 to 2 grams of soluble fibre. Add a banana or some strawberries for another half-gram.
Nuts: All nuts are rich in protein, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium and contain natural plant sterols and other plant nutrients. They are high in unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats, a mix which can help to keep your cholesterol in check. They’re high in fibre which can help block some cholesterol being absorbed into the blood stream from the gut. Plus, they’re filling, so you’re less likely to snack on other things. However, don’t go overboard. Since they are high in calories, aim for: 30-35g of nuts a day, which is around a handful.
Reduce consumption of trans fats and saturated fats: Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and full-fat dairy products, raise your total cholesterol. Decreasing your consumption of saturated fats can reduce your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - the ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Trans fats, sometimes listed on food labels as ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’, are often used in margarines and store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes. Trans fats raise overall cholesterol levels.
Have more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats: Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids help lower LDL. Most plant-derived oils, including canola, safflower, sunflower, olive, grapeseed, and peanut oils, contain both.
Eat plenty of soluble fibre: Foods high in soluble fibre help prevent your digestive tract from absorbing cholesterol. These foods include whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal and oat bran; fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, and prunes. Legumes such as kidney beans, lentils, chick peas and black-eyed peas.
Beans are especially rich in soluble fibre. They also take a while for the body to digest, meaning you feel full for longer after a meal. That’s one reason beans are a useful food to lose weight.
Whole grains are another good source of fiber. Oats and barley are grains which are rich in a type of fibre called beta glucan - which can help you to lower your cholesterol. Instead of refined flour and white rice, try whole-wheat flour and brown rice.
Go for fresh fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables have scads of ingredients that lower cholesterol - including fibre, cholesterol-blocking molecules called sterols and stanols, and eye-appealing pigments. The heart-healthy list spans the colour spectrum - leafy greens, yellow squashes, carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, plums, blueberries. As a rule, the richer the hue, the better the food is for you.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids don’t affect LDL cholesterol. But they have other heart-healthy benefits, including reducing blood pressure. Omega-3s reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and also protect the heart by helping prevent the onset of abnormal heart rhythms. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts and flaxseeds.
Soya: Soya beans and the foods that are made from them are perfect for a healthy diet. They are full of protein, vitamins and minerals, and they’re low in saturated fat. They play a role in helping to keep your cholesterol levels down too. Try switching some of your usual meat, dairy products and deserts, such as milk, yoghurt and custard, to soya alternatives to help you lower your cholesterol.
Drink green tea: Green tea is rich in antioxidants, which can prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and forming plaques in your arteries. Drinking at least one cup of green tea per day can reduce LDL cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart attack by nearly 20%.
Increase your physical activity: Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the ‘good’ cholesterol. With your doctor’s OK, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week or vigorous aerobic activity for 20 minutes three times a week.
Opt for Olive Oil: Substituting olive oil for butter may reduce LDL cholesterol by as much as 15%, which is similar to the effect of a low dose medication. The ‘good’ fats in olive oil benefit your heart.
Spice it up: Spices like garlic, ginger, black pepper, coriander, and cinnamon do more than flavor your food, they can also improve cholesterol. Research shows that eating a half to one clove of garlic each day could lower cholesterol up to 9%.
Lose weight: Carrying even a few extra pounds contributes to high cholesterol. Small changes add up. If you drink sugary beverages, switch to tap water. If you crave something sweet, try candies with little or no fatcorporate more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs or parking farther from your office. Take walks during breaks at work.
Chill Out: Did you know that when you’re stressed, your cholesterol can go through the roof? Relax. Get lost in a good book, meet a friend for coffee, or take to your yoga mat. It’ll help keep your cholesterol in check.