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10 foods that help lower cholesterol

Did you know that having high cholesterol levels is linked to an increased risk of heart diseases? Your diet, including both the foods that you consume and your choice of drink; has a powerful effect on how you can balance the “good” and “bad” levels of cholesterol.

Here we will help you understand the difference between good and bad cholesterol. Plus, discover changes you can make to your lifestyle, high cholesterol foods to avoid and of course, ten foods which will help lower your cholesterol.

What is cholesterol? An easy explanation to understand good vs. bad cholesterol

Cholesterol is an organic molecule which is essential to the structural make up of cell membranes in your body; made by your liver and found in the foods you eat. It is a type of fat, which comes in two forms. Whilst there is good cholesterol, bad cholesterol can cause major health issues.

What is good cholesterol?

Good cholesterol (also known as high density lipoprotein or HDL) can aid in reduced rates of heart problems or strokes. It is an essential fat and works within your blood to help remove bad cholesterol from places it doesn’t belong.

It moves it to the liver which reprocesses the bad cholesterol to make good cholesterol instead. After a cholesterol test, a good level of HDL is considered above 60 milligrams per decilitre (mg/dL).

 

What is bad cholesterol?

Bad cholesterol (also known as low density lipoprotein or LDL) makes you more likely to have heart problems or strokes.

It is caused by eating fatty, high cholesterol foods, not exercising appropriately, a failure to lose weight when overweight, smoking and also consuming alcohol in large quantities.

Find out more information about high cholesterol foods here and swap ideas for a healthier diet.

Sadly, high cholesterol can also be inherited; as it can be passed down through a fault in certain genes. The British Heart Foundation are working hard to fund and lead research into good and bad cholesterol and working on ways to reduce the risk high cholesterol poses, leading to heart disease and more.

There are no symptoms to indicate you have high bad cholesterol levels, it can only be found by completing a cholesterol blood test. It is important to get tested if you are worried about your lifestyle or diet; as high levels of LDL can lead to blocked blood vessels and other health issues.

After a cholesterol test, a good level of LDL is considered below 100 milligrams per decilitre (mg/dL).

 

Myths about cholesterol

For decades we have misunderstood cholesterol and how it affects our health. Here we will look at some very common misconceptions about cholesterol.

  • Cholesterol only affects elderly people; cholesterol can be inherited and children with this genetic disorder are in high risk of heart disease. Not only being genetic, in this day and age children and preteens can be affected by cholesterol due to poor diet and sedentary activities; such as video games.
  • You don’t need a cholesterol check until middle age. It is recommended that young adults (age of 20) check their cholesterol level every 4 to 6 years – or according to medical recommendation. If you are in doubt, please check with your GP.
  • If taking medication, no lifestyle changes are needed. Changing your lifestyle is key to a healthier life. Medication can help control your cholesterol levels; however, making changes to your lifestyle can help reduce the risk of stroke and heart diseases. In order to lower your cholesterol level, moderate to vigorous aerobic exercises are recommended – it is recommended to check with your GP before taking new activities.
  • Slim people are not affected by high cholesterol. Actually, any person with any body type can have high cholesterol, especially if following a “bad” diet, with saturated and high cholesterol foods.

Here is a short video on 10 foods that help lower cholesterol.

 

Worried about high cholesterol? Here’s what foods you should avoid

If you are worried about high cholesterol, we have all the details you need to understand what to avoid as part of a healthy diet.

  • Full fat dairy products. This includes foods such as cheese, cream, milk and yoghurt.
  • Animal fat products. This includes butter, ghee, margarines and spreads which have been derived from animal fats such as lard, suet and dripping.
  • Animal meat. Steak in particular is a meat high in fatty acids which can lead to high levels of LDL in your blood.
  • Animal organ meats (also known as offal) in particular offal such as kidneys, liver and heart can have an adverse effect if eaten in too great quantities.
  • Shellfish. This includes prawns, crab and lobster.
  • Fried foods. This includes foods such as cheese sticks, donuts and more. They are not only high in calories, but they can have an adverse effect on LDL levels.
  • Fast foods. Whilst we may all enjoy a trip to our local fast food restaurant, it should be reserved for special treats only, or avoided altogether. Fast food has been shown to contribute not only to LDL levels but an increased risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

 

How can high cholesterol be treated? Easy lifestyle changes plus 10 foods to help your cholesterol

High cholesterol is not the end of your life, so long as you ensure that you make changes to improve your cholesterol levels.

Here are 6 key steps to improving your cholesterol, including 10 foods you can include in your diet.

1 – First, you must get a cholesterol test completed

This is a simple blood test and will determine the levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol in your blood. As this article from The British Heart Foundation shows, it is important to make sure you not only do appropriate research, but speak to specialists. Even medical studies can be flawed, and if you have been told you require medicine to treat high cholesterol; or advised to alter your diet, make sure you follow medical advice.

2 – You may be required to take medication

In some instances, the doctor may prescribe medication to help lower your cholesterol. If you have had a cholesterol test with a result of 190 mg/dL LDL, it is likely you require the help of a medication known as statins.
It is worth noting, Professor Endre Kiss-Toth is leading new research to use a cholesterol lowering protein which can be found in the liver. The great thing about this research is it could lead to the use of a natural alternative to statins, which I’m sure many of us would prefer!

3 – Change up your diet

As you we have detailed above, there are a number of high cholesterol foods and drinks which can have an adverse effect on your cholesterol levels. Don’t panic though! We have ten foods which you can add to your diet which will help you to lower your cholesterol levels considerably. These include:

  • Oily fish: for example, mackerel, salmon, tuna and trout. These are full of Omega-3 and good fatty acids which can reduce your risk of developing blood clots as well as helping to reduce your blood pressure.
  • Nuts: for example, almonds and walnuts. These can not only help to reduce cholesterol levels, but help to reduce your risk of heart complications such as a heart attack.
  • Avocado: a naturally nutrient dense food containing nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, from vitamins C, E, K and B-6. They also provide omaga-3 fatty acids, lutein and beta-carotene, which are good for your health. An avocado can help to reduce LDL levels, helps with osteoporosis prevention, improve digestion and it is a natural detoxifying. It is a great addition to salads, sandwiches and of course as a main ingredient in guacamole.
  • Pulses: for example, beans, peas, and lentils. They are high in fibre, protein and minerals such as, zinc, magnesium and iron which positively affects serval cardio vascular diseases, and thus are a healthy addition to any diet. They can be an effective way to lower LDL cholesterol.
  • Whole grains: are rich in nutrients, fiber and vitamin B, for example, oats and barley. Whole grains are a perfect dietary addition for anyone seeking to lower their risk of heart disease, as they contain beta-glucan which is a fibre shown to lower cholesterol.
  • Fruit: in particular, berries. Most are rich in soluble fibre, which can lower cholesterol by up to 10%. Other compounds found within many fruits can also help to lower your risk of heart disease.
  • Dark chocolate: this may surprise you, but studies including this one have shown that cocoa or dark chocolate which contains a minimum of 75-85% cocoa can help to lower LDL cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. There are many other benefits around dark chocolate such as, being a source of antioxidants, it may improve blood flow and it can improve brain function. Ensure it is at least 75% cocoa as the sugar in other chocolate can have an adverse effect on your heart. Of course, as any other food, it should be consumed with moderation.
  • Garlic: it may be a myth that garlic wards away vampires, but it’s not a myth that it helps lower cholesterol. Garlic contains allicin which has been shown to lower blood pressure and can also help to lower levels of bad cholesterol.
  • Soy: for example, soybeans. This are an easy way to make additions to your diet to help your heart health. Research in the effects of soy products on cholesterol is still on going, but positive results have so far shown that they can help lower LDL levels in those who have been diagnosed with high cholesterol.
  • Vegetables: everyone knows that we should be including our five a day as part of a healthy diet, yet did you know vegetables are a great way to lower cholesterol too? Vegetables provide nutrients vital for health and maintenance of our body. Pectin vegetables are a type of water-soluble fiber which helps decrease cholesterol levels, thus decreasing the chances of stroke and heart disease.
 

Pectin-rich vegetables include:

  • Okra
  • Aubergine
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Green beans

4 – Exercise daily

Exercise offers incredible benefits that can improve almost every aspect of your life from inside out. This is a great way to improve you HDL levels, leading to lower LDL levels, and of course a generally healthier lifestyle.

Exercise can increase the production of endorphins, which are known to produce positive feelings and diminish the perception of pain. At least 30 minutes exercise is recommended however 60 minutes is best.

5 – Quit smoking

You may be aware of the fact that quitting smoking will help improve the health of your lungs and throat, however it can also help to lower your cholesterol. Click here if you require help to quit smoking.

6 – Reduce your intake of alcohol

Alcohol can have an adverse effect on your liver, but also your heart. Alcohol drunk in moderation is safe, however too much can raise the triglycerides which combined with low HDL cholesterol can lead to heart disease.

You can always ask your GP for help, if you struggling to cut down.

We have seen that there are many risk factors that can trigger your cholesterol levels, from a poor diet to lack of exercise. Lowering your cholesterol is not just a matter of changing your diet, of course, food plays a very important part. However, a change of lifestyle choices is a key factor in succeeding.

You now have a clear explanation of the difference between good and bad cholesterol, but also how you can avoid the bad and increase the good! With our list of high cholesterol foods and a second list of those which can help lower your cholesterol.

Making small changes to your lifestyle can have greater impact on your health, you can now begin to make the right lifestyle and dietary decisions to lead a healthier life.

If you are unsure on how to make those dietary changes you should always seek medical advice, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian, they can give you a personalised diet to better suit your lifestyle.