Before revealing the foods that can help keep cholesterol levels healthy, let’s briefly explain cholesterol
. Most of this fat-like substance is produced in and disposed of via your liver, while the rest comes from food. “Cholesterol is essential for many of our body’s functions, including production of hormones, bile and vitamin D,” says Milly Smith, Accredited Practising Dietitian. Heard the terms HDL and LDL? They refer to lipoproteins that carry cholesterol in your blood. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the ‘good guy’, helping to rid cholesterol from your arteries, while low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the ‘baddie’ - leaving the cholesterol in your arteries. “With too much LDL in our bloodstream we can start to develop fatty deposits in our arteries, which can start to cause a narrowing of the blood vessels and can even lead to them being blocked,” says Smith. “This can then lead to heart disease and stroke.”
But how do you get high cholesterol and why is it so common? “Diets that can increase bad cholesterol are far more available today,” says Smith. “Too much high saturated-fat items like deep-fried foods, pastries, ice-cream, and processed meats, plus a low intake of good fats and dietary fibre contribute,” she adds. However, it’s controllable. “Changes in our diet can help improve cholesterol levels,” says Smith. “The key ways of doing this include reducing saturated fats and replacing them with healthy fats.”
Skip butter on toast and use avocado. According to the Dietitians Association of Australia
, “two-thirds of the total fat in avocado is monounsaturated, one key to a healthy heart.” And a review of 18 studies
published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that avocados can also increase the presence of good cholesterol.
2. Nuts & seeds
When you’re hungry between meals, go for crunch. “Snacking on nuts and seeds rather than cakes and pastries is a cholesterol-healthy choice,” says Smith. Eating nuts often
helps to lower bad cholesterol and, contrary to some beliefs, doesn’t cause weight gain.
Oily fish is loaded with omega-3, a healthy polyunsaturated fat that helps to keep cholesterol levels balanced. “Make sure you include oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, in your menu regularly,” says Smith.
4. Lean meat
“To help reduce high LDL cholesterol, replace processed or high-fat cuts of meat with leaner varieties,” says Smith. Lean meat has the fat trimmed and in the case of chicken, the skin off. Healthier cuts include beef flank steak, rump, tenderloin and topside
, lamb rump and leg, pork fillets
, and skinless chicken breast
Aim to eat half a cup of cooked pulses, such as lentils, chickpeas and beans, every day. A review of more than 25 studies
found this regular dietary inclusion significantly reduced bad cholesterol levels.
Choose high-fibre oats for breakfast. Recent research from China
revealed fibre-rich diets are beneficial for cardiovascular disease risk factors and reducing bad cholesterol. Oats also provide soluble fibre
, thought to lower blood cholesterol by binding bile acids then excreting them. “We should aim to include foods high in dietary fibre, such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and legumes,” advises Smith. Guidelines
on daily fibre needs are 6–8g of soluble fibre
from a total of 20–35g fibre. One cup of cooked oats offers about 5g of fibre
7. Berries and pears
While all fruits provide varied health benefits, berries (mainly raspberries and blackberries) and pear (skin on)
offer the highest amounts of soluble fibre, important for lowering LDL cholesterol levels. Use those to top of your porridge and you’re set for a fibre-filled day.
8. Soy foods
Soybeans and soy milk
in particular have been shown to significantly reduce LDL cholesterol while simultaneously increasing good cholesterol. Soybeans
are high in fibre and protein and are a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
9. Steamed greens
The bile acid binding effects linked to lowering bad cholesterol have been confirmed through consumption of lightly cooked greens
such as leafy kale and spinach, along with broccoli and brussels sprouts.
10. Fruit, nut or seed-based oils
They may not be foods, but since oil is used when cooking much of the food you eat, it pays to use healthier varieties
. Instead of butter or other animal fats, go for canola, olive or sunflower oils.
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