5 top tips to lower cholesterol
'Cholesterol' is a mis-understood area and commonly just assumed to be 'bad'. That's not the case and is a myth that needs busting. Cholesterol plays a valuable role in our body, from building our body's cells to producing vitamins and hormones. However there are different types of cholesterol and it is true that if there is too much of the wrong type of cholesterol, it is bad news for your heart health and increases the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Changes to your diet are the easiest way to lower 'bad cholesterol' and improve the level of 'good cholesterol'. Our nutritionists explain cholesterol and share the five tips to lower bad cholesterol naturally through your diet.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance needed by your body to build your body's cells, produce vitamins, nutrients and other hormones. Cholesterol is produced by your liver, and your liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs. However cholesterol also comes from saturated fats in our diet, in particular fats from animal fats including red meat, pork and dairy products, and processed foods such as sausages, bacon, butter and cheese. You may enjoy reading about the best oils for cooking.
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These foods are high in 'saturated fats' and 'trans fats', and they cause your liver to produce more cholesterol than your body needs. Cholesterol is transported around you body in your blood, and excess cholesterol is stored in your arteries, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart disease and stroke.
Most of the cholesterol in our body is LDL cholesterol. Our body needs LDL cholesterol to protect our nerves and produce healthy cells and hormones. However, too much LDL is considered 'bad' because it contributes to build up of fats in our arteries, narrowing our arteries which disrupts the blood flow through our body, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease.
HDL cholesterol is considered a 'good cholesterol' because a healthy level of HDL can actually help protect against cardiovascular disease. HDL transports LDL and other cholesterols away from your arteries back to your liver, where it is processed before being excreted from your body.
If you have a high level of HDL and LDL cholesterol, the priority is to lower your LDL cholesterol through diet and lifestyle, and through medication such as 'statins' if necessary. Your diet is the first and most effective step to healthy cholesterol levels, so here we share the 5 best tips for healthy cholesterol and to lower 'bad' cholesterol.
5 tips to lower cholesterol
1. Eat lots of soluble fibre
Soluble fibre is a type of fibre that is mixed well with water, and when consumed helps to maintain healthy bowel movements and sweep toxins from the bowel. Soluble fibre also helps to trap bile and remove it from the body. This means your body makes more bile out of stored cholesterol, which in turn reduces cholesterol levels. Learn more about what does your poo say about your health.
Soluble fibre also provides a food source for the probiotics in your gut. This fibre is called 'prebiotic fibre'. These fibres feed probiotic fibres that are ‘bile salt hydrolase active’ that metabolise bile, so it cannot be reabsorbed, again meaning your body has to make more bile from cholesterol stores, ultimately lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. You may enjoy reading our nutritionists blog on 'Why your should improve your gut health'.
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Sources of prebiotic and soluble fibre include 'pectin' which is found in fruits including apples, pears, plums, quince, gooseberries and guavas. Consuming pectin-rich foods on a regular basis helps to keep your gut healthy and your cholesterol levels in check. Pectin is a substance that helps to move food along the gut. Having the right type of fibre and supporting probiotic concentrations should be number one on your list for gut health! Learn more in the latest gut health research.
2. Plant-based (traditional) Mediterranean diet
Most people have heard of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. A traditional Mediterranean diet (which is plant-based) is a lot better for health than the modern Mediterranean diet. The modern Mediterranean diet includes a moderate level of meat and cheese which is not found so much in the traditional Mediterranean diet. A traditional Mediterranean diet contains whole grains, beans, lentils and ample fruit and vegetables and is one of the best for providing plant stanols and acting as a cholesterol-reducing diet.
The Mediterranean diet is reviewed in more detail by our nutritionists in 'Is a Mediterranean diet actually healthy?'.
Plant stanols are a type of phytosterols (plant sterols) which help prevent dietary cholesterol from being absorbed. Plant stanols do not get absorbed themselves and help to lower LDL cholesterol levels in the body.
3. Regularly consume cholesterol-reducing foods
Some foods are 'superfoods' for lowering cholesterol levels.
Oats and oat milk
Oats contain a type of fibre called 'beta-glucans' which help to lower LDL cholesterol. Oat milk has also been shown in studies to be effective at lowering LDL cholesterol - learn more in 'Which plant-based milk is the best'.
Studies show that the consumption of oat milk consistently for 5 weeks can lower serum cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in free-living men with moderate hypercholesterolemia.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been shown in research to significantly decrease total 'serum cholesterol'. If you suffer with acid reflux, discover our recommended best 3 foods to eat and avoid for acid reflux or 'GERD'.
Taking a daily dose of apple cider vinegar with a meal is also excellent for digestion and gut health, ultimately supporting probiotic numbers. Discover GlucoBalance, which contains apple cider vinegar and 7 other ingredients to manage blood sugar levels.
Omega 3 fats
Omega 3 fats found in flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and their oils provide Omega 3 fats which help to reduce blood triglyceride (fat) levels. Plant-sourced Omega 3 known as alpha linolenic acid helps to prevent the synthesis of cholesterol in the body.
4. Avoid cholesterol-raising foods
Unhealthy fats such as those in processed and deep-fried foods should be avoided as they increase blood fat and cholesterol levels. Avoid pasties, cakes, takeaways, palm oil, trans fats, and hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats. Focus on consuming homemade food rich in healthy fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, olives and avocados.
You may be interested in our nutritionist advice for healthy weight loss.
George Gregan, Australia's most capped international rugby player and Vegan Omega 3 customer.
Sugars and refined carbohydrates
When refined carbohydrates and sugar are consumed, your liver converts the extra glucose derived from these foods into fats which circulate in the blood and plays a role in total cholesterol levels. Learn more about whether sugar is actually good for you.
Choose wholegrain options and don’t add extra sugar to foods.
Refined shop-bought chocolate
Many people ask if chocolate is bad for cholesterol. Although cocoa beans and powder don't have an effect on cholesterol levels, the sugar and additional fat that comes with chocolate bars do. If you are craving chocolate, try making chocolate avocado pudding with ½ avocado mashed, cocoa powder and xylitol.
5. Get a full health check
Your GP will be able to check your thyroid stimulating hormone level. This is an indication of how well your thyroid is working. When thyroid hormone levels are low, the body and your liver work slower, including processing your blood at a slower rate, which can lead to higher cholesterol levels.
We recommend reading our nutritionist's tips for an underactive thyroid.
It is worth checking out your testosterone levels. Testosterone is also very important for women. Unbalanced testosterone levels can lead to higher cholesterol levels and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
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Check your BMI
Checking in on your BMI and overall fat mass could also be done. A high-fat mass increases your chance of having high cholesterol levels.
Get help for smoking and drinking alcohol
Smoking and drinking alcohol are both departmental to health and cholesterol levels. If you need help quitting, your GP can point you in the right direction to get support.
Smoking causes excessive oxidative stress in the body which can lead to the hardening of cholesterol in your arteries. Alcohol is very high in calories and negatively impacts the liver, leading to a rise in cholesterol levels. Our nutritionists discuss the health of alcohol and wine in our recent article, 'Is wine good for you?'.
Get regular cholesterol checks
Many people put off getting regular cholesterol checks as they do not know how to check cholesterol levels other than going to the GP. Your nurse and pharmacist can also test, and you can even do some tests yourself at home.
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