Dietary and lifestyle changes usually can lower blood cholesterol levels to acceptable ranges for most people, starting with foods low in saturated fats and high in fiber. Not only can a diet rich in fiber and low saturated foods reduce your cholesterol it may also prevent heart disease.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is carried by the blood to all parts of the body. A large amount of the cells in your body can also produce it. Some of the cholesterol comes from food (dietary cholesterol), but your body makes the bulk of blood cholesterol. If there is too much blood cholesterol, the cholesterol will then build up or form plaque on the walls of the blood vessels and even clog them over time. Causing plaque formation will narrow the blood vessels, which may increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Total cholesterol (TC) levels have a desirable, borderline, and high range. It is desirable to have a TC number of less than 200 mg/dl.
TC = Total Cholesterol
HDL= High Density Lipoprotein (Good)
LDL= Low Density Lipoprotein (Bad)
In addition to knowing the amount of total cholesterol in your blood, the doctor usually finds out how much of the cholesterol is present as HDL-cholesterol (the good kind) and as LDL-cholesterol (the bad kind). Cholesterol teams up with protein to get through the blood vessels.
HDL, a high density lipoprotein made up of lipid (another word for fat) and protein, has more protein than fat and appears to carry the cholesterol it contains to the liver for excretion.
HDL-cholesterol is known as the “good” cholesterol. Therefore, you want a high HDL number because that indicates a high level of this good cholesterol in your blood. It is desirable to have a HDL-cholesterol of more than 40 mg/dl. An average HDL number is in the mid-forties range for a man and in the fifties range for a woman. A HDL number less than 40 is considered low and increases your risk. The higher your HDL number is, the better.
LDL-cholesterol is a low density lipoprotein (more fat, less protein). The cholesterol it contains is carried to the tissues and may be deposited in the blood vessels, which causes plaque formation. It is desirable to have a LDL-cholesterol of less than 100 mg/dl. The LDL number is always larger than the HDL number. Ideally keeping your intake of salt under 1500 milligrams a day is advisable.
A cholesterol lowering diet should first be low in total fat, especially saturated fat, as well as cholesterol, and high in fiber. Some kinds of fiber help lower blood cholesterol levels; other kinds of fiber help regulate your bowel function and may reduce your risk of cancer. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, and other grain products. Animal products have very little fiber no matter how lean they are. Keep in mind animal products have cholesterol, plant foods do not.
There are two types of fiber; soluble fiber helps to lower blood cholesterol levels in most individuals when added to the diet. Though oat bran is the most common type of fiber next to whole wheat, quinoa, millet, peas, squash, figs, apples along with many vegetables and most fruits also contain soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber produces the tough, chewy texture of vegetables such as celery, cabbage, and whole grains. Cellulose, hemi cellulose, and lignin are insoluble fibers. Eating foods containing insoluble fiber is important for proper bowel function and can reduce symptoms of chronic constipation, and hemorrhoids.
Keep in mind that when you read on bread labels “Whole Wheat” it does not necessarily suggest high fiber, look closely and you will find most ingredient labels begin with “Enriched Whole Wheat Flour” or “Enriched Bleached whole wheat Flour” which is whole wheat that has been stripped away of all dietary nutrients including fiber. Always reach for heart-healthy whole grain bread without enriched flour.
How much fiber do you need? It takes just 2 ounces of oat bran a day, about 6 grams of soluble fiber, to lower blood cholesterol levels when added to a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. That equals 2 servings of cooked oat bran or oatmeal but you should get more total dietary fiber than that-20 to 35 grams every day is the usual recommendation.
Fiber may cause a feeling of fullness and gas, increase fiber consumption gradually. Drink plenty of liquid to get the greatest benefit.
Though most cholesterol is produced through the consumption of animal protein realistically is it may be difficult to take meat and cheese out of our diets, however, there are ways to counterbalance these foods with fiber rich foods.
Foods that reduce cholesterol due to their High Fiber:
Apples with the skin
Dark leafy green vegetables
Raw and Unsalted Walnuts
Raw and Unsalted Pumpkin seeds
Raw and Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
All Fresh Berries
Foods that will raise cholesterol:
High Saturated Fats in meats and cheeses (read the labels)
Trans Fats in foods
Low fat, Fat free, or High Sodium processed foods that have trans fats
Egg Yolks (amount in baked goods is fine if your cholesterol doesn’t exceed 280)
Dill Pickles in Brine
Olives in vinegar or salt brine (better to use olive oil)
The lists above are just partial lists as there are many selections available in stores and on the internet. Always read the nutrition labels for the saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and fiber levels. The foods suggested to reduce cholesterol are for prevention purposes and should not be substituted by medicine prescribed by your doctor.
Some additional tips to keep in mind are:
Egg yolks can be substituted with egg whites (watch out for high egg yolk content in baked goods), when baking at home you can substitute 1 whole egg for 2 egg whites in all recipes.
Farm raised fish are great substitutes for meat protein such as cod, salmon, tuna, flounder, red snapper, tilapia, trout, halibut, and many more.
Watch your intake of smoked salmon (also known as lox), it is very high in sodium.
Keep your raw nuts fresh by keeping them in the refrigerator. The perishable oils in the nuts will go rancid if not stored properly.
Grape seed oil is naturally cholesterol free and great for two things. 1) it is high in Vitamin E, and Omega-6 and 2) it can be used for high heat cooking unlike olive oil, vegetable oil, and some nut oils, in addition to retaining the antioxidants in the high heat cooking temperatures. The one I recommend is by SADAF. You can order it online at: http://sadaf.com/Grapeseed.html or find it at Trader Joe’s in the oils section.
Use extra virgin olive oil (should be cold pressed) for salads – the greener the oil the better it is for you – younger olives are packed with phytonutrients, which are potent antioxidants that can neutralize free radical damage.
When drinking milk it’s best to opt for the 1% or skim variety which has virtually no saturated fat yet with all the calcium of whole milk.
All citrus fruits are high in soluble fiber.
All the berries, cherries, and apples also have high soluble fiber…best to eat 5 serving a day, also the berries and cherries are cancer cell blockers preventing free radical damage.
Drink pomegranate juice regularly, it’s high in fiber and reduces cholesterol along with having one of the highest levels of antioxidants.
And finally, anything white is usually best eaten sparingly…though we do have our occasional cheeseburger with the works, let’s indulge in those foods as little as possible as we do want to be on this planet as long as possible…here’s to great health and great living!