Cholesterol, and saturated fat, are not necessarily bad for you, especially in moderation with a balanced diet. The problem comes from trans fats, refined grains and carbohydrates such as; margarine, pasta, bread, pastries, pizza, fast food, desserts. Cutting these out of the diet can lead to a significant drop in bad cholesterol; LDL’s and VLDL’s (Low density lipoproteins and very low density lipoproteins) and triglyceride’s despite continuing to eat cholesterol-rich foods like red meat, eggs, cream, and butter. In fact, there’s good reason to question the popular theory of “lipid hypothesis” which suggests that dietary cholesterol clogs the arteries and leads to heart disease. LDL (bad) and VLDL (very bad!!)cholesterol builds up in the arteries not because you’ve been eating too many eggs, but in response to inflammation. Inflammation is triggered by many causes including a diet high in trans fat, sugar and processed carbohydrates. Cholesterol is the body’s bandaid, it is sent to repair damage to arteries caused by inflammation. When LDL’s are high, the concern is that it will be oxidised, by free radicals, and again that is due to inflammation.
Foods to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol and help reduce inflammation;
- Eliminate trans fats (margarine from the diet
- Avoid excessive saturated fats from all sources, particularly fat from animal protein such as; butter, cream, milk as well as the fat in meat.
- Pulses such as beans and lentils (they’re not pro-inflammatory like grains are)
- Nuts (walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews and macadamia’s) & seeds (sunflower and pepita’s)
- Olive oil (only cold as a salad dressing as it oxidates on moderate heat)
- Cook with coconut oil or rice bran oil
- Fish and other omega 3 fatty acids
- Fruits such as apples, pears, grapes, citrus fruits (such as red grapefruit, just make sure you have it a few hours away from any BP medication), peaches, nectarines, plums and berries
- ALL vegetables, try raising your daily intake to 9 serves a day. To do this, add veggies to meat dishes (such as grated carrot and zucchini to meat sauces and then have a huge mixed salad on the side)
- Vary your veggies as much as possible, but have plenty of leafy greens, and raw salad items, alfalfa and mung bean sprouts are great, snow peas, capsicum, grated carrot and beetroot. Lightly steamed veggies such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cooked veggies such as; eggplant, okra and pumpkin.
- Foods rich in soluble fibre such as; skins on vegetables, celery, asparagus, artichoke hearts, chia seeds, psyllium husks, linseeds (also known as flax seeds). Soluble fibre forms a complex with cholesterol, that captures it and helps move it out of the body.
- Onions, garlic and leeks
- Green tea
- A glass of red wine (but any more will have the opposite effect)
- Raw Cacao
If you want to lower your cholesterol, you really need to improve your overall health and reduce your risk of heart disease, by addressing inflammation. So be sure that along with lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol you boost good (HDL) cholesterol and control inflammation by avoiding pro-inflammatory foods.
Foods high in soluble-fibre;
Whole oats, oat bran
Soluble fibre can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Five to 10 grams or more of soluble fibre a day decreases your total and LDL cholesterol. Eating 1 1/2 cups of cooked oats provides 6 grams of fibre. make sure they’ve been soaked overnight for added benefits including easier digestion and balancing the gut microbiome. If you add fruit, such as bananas, or grated apple (with the skin on) you’ll add about 4 more grams of fibre. To mix it up a little, try steel-cut oatmeal or bircher muesli.
Pulses and Legumes such as Lentils
Beans, peas, lentils, split peas, lima, kidney and navy beans, black eyed peas and peanuts are also wonderful sources soluble fibre: for example; every half-cup of cooked lima beans provides 3.5 grams. One study in The Journal of Nutrition found that consuming a half cup of cooked dried pinto beans (2 grams of soluble fibre) daily for 12 weeks decreased LDL cholesterol by about percent.
Eat whole fruit, not fruit juice (even freshly squeezed)
If you are going to eat something sweet, first make sure it’s fruit instead of sugar, pastries and desserts. But choose fruit, not fruit juice. The benefit of fruit comes from the fibre, so if you drink juice, you’re losing that wonderful benefit and essentially drinking water that’s high in fructose.
The soluble fibre in pears and apples is mostly in the form of pectin, and it is great at reducing LDL levels. Surprisingly, fresh pears contain even more pectin than apples do. Pectin binds with cholesterol and ferries it out of the body before it can be absorbed.
For every 30gms of chia seeds, you will be getting 10.7gm of dietary fibre (both the soluble and insoluble type) and 5 g of alpha-linolenic acid (alpha-linolenic acid is an essential omega-3 fatty acid). They also provide anti-oxidants which help reduce free radicals not only in the body, but are stabilise the omega-3 fatty acids in the chia seed itself.
Getting 10 to 12 grams of psyllium per day can decrease LDL cholesterol by 5 to 10 percent.
The outer husks from the seeds of Psyllium (Plantago ovato) are effective at lowering both the total cholesterol and the ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol, as it’s very concentrated in soluble fibre (it contains a whopping 70 per cent soluble fibre!) Soluble fibre helps to lower cholesterol by binding to the ‘bad’, LDL, cholesterol and taking it out of the body.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids
Eat wild, fatty, cold-water fish and consider a fish oil supplement. ( wild caught salmon, wild mackerel and sardines.) Fish is the richest source of Omega-3 fatty acids, so aim for two or three portions a week. Make sure you choose wild, cold-water fish to reduce exposure to chemicals like mercury.
Eating fatty fish can be heart healthy because of its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots. In people who have already had heart attacks, fish oil — or omega-3 fatty acids — may reduce the risk of sudden death.
Although omega-3 fatty acids don’t affect LDL levels, because of their other heart benefits, it’s recommended that you eat at least two servings of fish a week. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are in:
You should bake or grill the fish to avoid adding unhealthy fats. If you don’t like fish, you can also get small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from foods such as ground flaxseed or chia seeds.
Organic or truly Free Ranging Eggs
Make sure you eat organic eggs (if from the supermarket) or locally sourced, truly free ranged eggs as they contain omega 3 fatty acids whereas caged eggs and supermarket “free range” contain only omega 6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory in excess.
You can take an omega-3 or fish oil supplement to get some of the benefits, but you won’t get other nutrients in fish, such as selenium. If you decide to take a supplement, choose a quality brand such as Metagenics, to minimise mercury exposure, and talk to me about how much you should take.
What else to do;
Most cholesterol-lowering guides will recommend that you switch refined carbohydrates to whole-grain carbohydrates (such as whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain bread). This can help to a degree to lower your cholesterol especially if your diet has been high in starchy carbohydrates. But to really lower your cholesterol as well as reduce inflammation, which is just as significant to heart health and more significant for overall health it would be better to eliminate processed grains entirely.
Garlic is wonderful for your cardiovascular system and as part of the allium family of plants it’s a natural anti-inflammatory. Other great foods that reduce inflammation are: ginger, curry (particularly turmeric), and chilli’s.
Whether it’s leeks, chives, white onions, red onions, spring onions or shallots, these flavourful bulbs are great for reducing inflammation and healing your arteries. Onions also contain high levels of quercetain an important flavonoid that reduces cholesterol. Try to eat some every day.
Olive oil doesn’t just make food taste better. The unsaturated fats found in olive oil have the added benefit of helping to cut LDL cholesterol levels without affecting HDL. Aim for about 2 tablespoons a day in place of other fats. Have cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil on salads, but don’t heat it up or cook with it as it becomes rancid at a low heat point. This means it oxidises and that means inflammation.
Walnuts, almonds and other nuts
Eating about a handful (about 45 grams) a day of most nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts, may reduce your risk of heart disease. Make sure the nuts you eat are raw, unsalted and aren’t coated with sugar.
All nuts are high in calories, so a handful will do. To avoid eating too many nuts and gaining weight, replace foods high in saturated fat with nuts. For example, instead of using cheese, meat or croutons in your salad, add a handful of walnuts or almonds.
Tomatoes are a significant source of a plant compound called lycopene, which reduces levels of LDL cholesterol. Research shows that the body absorbs more lycopene if the tomatoes are cooked, so tined tomatoes are good or add tomatoes to your minestrone soup and stews as well.
Try adding avocado slices to salads, use it in place of butter on sandwiches or eating them as a side dish. Also try guacamole with raw cut vegetables, such as carrot sticks and cucumber slices, the kids love it!
Green tea has been shown in a meta-analysis of 14 studies, to significantly reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels (by 7.20 mg/dL and 2.19 mg/dL, respectively). In some studies participants drank tea; in others, they took green tea supplements.
Red Wine and Grape Juice
A moderate amount of alcohol can raise levels of good HDL cholesterol by as much as 5 to 15 percent, research shows — and red wine is particularly beneficial because its polyphenol antioxidants may also lower LDL levels. If you’re not into red wine, grape juice can provide some of the same heart-healthy benefits, otherwise a supplement called resveratrol is the element in red wine and grapes that is responsible for lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation and protection against arterial damage.
Cacao polyphenols may also lower your LDL’s or “bad” cholesterol, and raise your HDL’s or “good” cholesterol levels.
In good news for chocoholics, a meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that raw cacao consumption lowered LDL cholesterol by more than 5 mg/dL in people at risk of heart disease.
Photo by Stuart Miles.