What is a cholesterol-lowering diet?
A cholesterol-lowering diet is aimed at assisting the body to reduce cholesterol using cholesterol-lowering foods and avoiding foods that increase cholesterol levels. This is very different from traditional low cholesterol diets, which aim on reducing cholesterol intake in a bid to reduce cholesterol levels. Only a small amount of our endogenous cholesterol levels are from ingestion of cholesterol, the rest is made by our body. High cholesterol can be a result of the wrong dietary choices over a period of time, an inflammatory disease process, a hypothyroid condition, or even allergies! The following dietary advice is aimed at helping to lower your cholesterol levels.
The following foods are associated with cholesterol-lowering properties:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Linseed Oil
- Mustard Green
Fibre helps to lower cholesterol by binding to bile, which is made from cholesterol, and carrying through the bowel for excretion. This means that the bile is not reabsorbed and needs to be produced by the liver again from cholesterol, lowering endogenous levels.
The following foods are high in beneficial fibre which increases the excretion of cholesterol:
- Slippery Elm
- Psyllium Husk
- Wholegrain products
- Linseed Meal
- Brown Rice
- Black Rice
Another aspect of cholesterol to look at is the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) ratio. HDL cholesterol is beneficial as it bounces off the blood vessel walls, cleaning up excess cholesterol and fats that have stuck to the walls and carrying them back to the liver for metabolism. In contrast, LDL cholesterol is damaging to its low density as it bounces against the blood vessel walls and leaves splats of bad cholesterol particles that stick to the blood vessel walls. It is these particles that are the predisposing factor to atherosclerosis as they make it easy for calcification to occur, leading to blockages that cause heart failure and strokes.
Foods that increase HDL and decrease LDL are:
- Nuts and their cold-pressed oils – almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts
- Seeds and their cold-pressed oils – sesame seeds, pepitas, sunflower seeds
- Globe artichoke
- Linseeds and linseed oil
- Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
- Apples with ski
- Linseeds / Linseeds oil
- Brown and black rice
- Fish – mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, blue-eyed cod
Cholesterol actually serves an antioxidant role in the body, so when the antioxidant status is low it can cause an increase in cholesterol levels. Increasing antioxidant foods in the diet can therefore help to lower cholesterol by decreasing oxidative stress but will also have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system, preventing atherosclerosis and heart disease.
The following foods are good source of antioxidants:
- Black Olives
- White Tea
- Wheat Grass
- Red Grapes
- Brazil Nuts
- Red Wine
- Green Tea
What increases my cholesterol?
Now that we’ve covered all the beneficial foods you should be including in your diet, it’s time to discuss what kind of factors will have an unfavourable effect on your cholesterol levels, and should therefore be avoided.
Trans-fats are created by oxidation of the fat molecule, which causes it to change from its natural cis formation to a transformation. This form is not easily digested or metabolised by the body, and studies have shown that trans-fatty acid intake is associated with inflammation, increased oxidative stress, and poor cholesterol and fat parameters.
The main sources of trans-fats that should be avoided are:
- Spreadable Butter
- Deep-Fried Foods
- Oil that is not cold-pressed
- Cooking Spray Oils
Sugar and simple carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for the body, so when our diet is high in simple carbohydrates the body uses this excess energy to convert to fat which then can increase our cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Simple carbohydrate sources which should be avoided include:
- White Bread
- White Crackers
- Jasmine Rice
- Jams and Spreads
- Canned Fruit/Veg with added sugar
A high saturated fat intake has been associated with high cholesterol levels. Saturated fat is however beneficial, it should just be consumed in small amounts compared to the other fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet, which should be consumed more frequently.
Limiting the amount of the following will ensure you are not consuming too much-saturated fat:
- Excess Fat on Meat
- Chicken Skin
- Hard Cheese
- Fatty Meats
Low-fat products generally tend to be high in sugar, and as mentioned above this can lead to increased cholesterol levels. Low-fat dairy products usually contain milk solids to make them creamier. Milk solids are in fact milk powder and are high in oxidised cholesterol due to the high heat process by which they are made. It is in fact better to have full-fat products in moderation than it is to ingest these oxidated cholesterol-containing foods.
The following low-fat products should be avoided:
- Skim/Trim/Low fat/No fat milk – if you insist on low-fat milk try Mungali Creek organic low fat, TRIM or you’ll love coles skim milk as these do not contain milk solids
- Low fat cream, yogurt, cheese, ice-cream or other dairy products
- Other products that claim to be low in fat but are high in added sugar (check labels)
So how do I put these dietary changes into action?
Making changes to your diet can be difficult, which is why it is important to take things slowly, changing one or two things at a time. Your practitioner will assist you in choosing which dietary changes are best to try first and will give you practical dietary advice along with recipes.
There are many options available to you as substitutions for foods that you enjoy in your daily diet – try using xylitol (a natural fruit sugar found in health food shops) instead of sugar, or substituting low-fat milk for rice or oat milk.
What other things can I do to reduce my cholesterol?
Regular exercise is an integral part of cholesterol reduction as it helps to increase metabolism and increase cholesterol excretion. Aim for 40 minutes three times a week. Try to have a mix of cardio which increases your heart rate, and strength exercises which help to reduce fatty tissue and build muscle mass.
Dehydration increases oxidative stress so be sure to drink at least 1.5 litres of filtered water a day, more if exercising or on a hot day.