Cholesterol is a crucial building block for cell walls and is also vital for producing certain hormones. However, moderation is key, and the same goes for cholesterol. High cholesterol in the blood is linked to the risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. Every part of our human body needs cholesterol. Most of it is produced in the liver, with only a small proportion of our body’s cholesterol coming from our diet. The bloodstream transports cholesterol from the liver to the other organs and tissues in the body. Spare cholesterol is transported back to the liver in the blood. There are two types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol and HDL as the “good” cholesterol.
LDL in excess is detrimental for our body as it sticks to the inside of the artery cell walls. Arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart to other areas of the body and the heart itself. The sticking of the cholesterol to the inner artery walls can lead to the build-up of fatty material leading to the formation of an atheroma (fat plaque). This process is called atherosclerosis. This atheroma essentially blocks a part of the artery making it increasingly difficult for the blood to flow through the arteries. This blockage can lead to more dire complications such as a heart attack. A high amount of HDL can keep this bad LDL cholesterol in check and remove it from the body.
Eating a low cholesterol heart-healthy diet will help you maintain the right level of cholesterol in your body, reducing your risk of getting heart disease and stroke in the future. Here are some cholesterol-busting foods you can incorporate in your diet.
Fruits and vegetables
It goes without saying that getting your five a day is important even if you are not trying to fight your cholesterol levels. They contain essential vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals all helping you stay healthy and prevent disease. Most of them do not have fat and are low in calories which help you stay a healthy weight. That’s not it! Fruits and veg are also high in fibre, and there are certain types of fibre known for lowering cholesterol. Fibres help cholesterol levels as they block some cholesterols from being absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream. Good examples of vegetables and fruits are pulses (beans, peas and lentils - which are high in this kind of fibre), sweet potato, aubergine, broccoli, apples, strawberries and prunes.
Go nuts on nuts
Nuts have a good mix of unsaturated fats and low saturated fats. This combination can help you keep your cholesterol levels at bay. They also contain fibres that can block cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream from the gut. Another bonus is that the nuts are filling so can help fill you up more quickly, preventing you from snaking further. For your daily snacks, try and swap the unhealthy ones for a bag of nuts.
Oats and barley
Oats and barley are grains. They are rich in a fibre called beta-glucan, and a small amount of 3g of beta-glucan can help lower cholesterol. Eating beta-glucan helps lower cholesterol as it limits the amount of cholesterol absorbed from the gut into the blood. It does this by forming a gel which binds to cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestines. Thus, the liver has to take more cholesterol out of your blood to make more bile, which lowers your blood cholesterol.
Soya and soya-derived foods are perfect constituents for a healthy diet. They are packed with proteins, vitamins and minerals as well as being low in saturated fats. Try replacing meat, full-fat dairy products and high saturated fat snacks with soya alternatives that are low in saturated fats. Aim for two or three servings of soya milk in your daily diet.
Sterols and stanols
What are sterols and stanols? If you have never heard of them, they are plant chemicals that have similar sizes and shapes to cholesterol. They block some cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream as they are alternatively absorbed. This switch lowers the cholesterol in your blood. You can get a small amount of sterol from plant-based foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. But sadly, this is not enough to fight cholesterol. You can get your desired sterol and stanol levels from yoghurt drinks, fat spreads, milk and yoghurts that have added sterols and stanols. These foods gradually lower your cholesterol over a few weeks. Sterols and stanols is believed to be the best and most effective food for lowering cholesterol.
If you are trying to fight high cholesterol levels, a change in your diet is an excellent place to start as it can make a huge difference. Any change comes with its difficulties, and trying to switch all the high cholesterol foods with heart-healthy foods overnight can be difficult. Try and slowly switch out the unhealthy saturated fat foods with better alternatives.
- Heart UK Charity. Six Super Foods for Lower Cholesterol | HEART UK. [Online] www.heartuk.org.uk. Available from: https://www.heartuk.org.uk/healthy-living/cholesterol-lowering-foods [Accessed: 2nd August 2020]
- NHS Choices. Lower your cholesterol - Healthy body. [Online] NHS. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/lower-your-cholesterol/