Reducing your intake of the bad stuff is easier than you think!
If your recent GP visit revealed a high cholesterol reading, you’re not alone. According to HEART UK, over half of adults living in England have raised cholesterol, and it’s no surprise why, with our love of fast food, convenience meals and fatty treats. So what’s the skinny? There are two main types of cholesterol; high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and lowdensity lipoproteins (LDL). HDL picks up any excess cholesterol in your blood and transfers it to your liver, where it’s broken down and removed from your body. LDL, on the other hand, is often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol as high levels of it can build up in your arteries and cause heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. The good news, however, is that with just a few tweaks to your diet you can reduce your cholesterol by up to 10 per cent in just 2-3 weeks!
Swap your fats
Bust bad cholesterol by eating a healthy, balanced diet that is low in saturated and trans fats. HEART UK advises that women should keep their daily saturated fat intake below 20g and men should keep theirs under 30g.
While it’s important to limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet, it is equally vital to make sure this is replaced by small amounts of unsaturated fats, which can be found in olive, sunflower, vegetable, nut and seed oils, as well as avocado, oily fish and nuts.
Soya foods are not only naturally low in saturated fat, they also help to influence the way the body regulates cholesterol. According to HEART UK, studies show that you can lower your cholesterol by six per cent by including just 15g of soya protein in your diet every day. Dr Rupert Critchley from VIVA Medi Clinic says: “Milk, cheese and butter all contain high levels of LDL cholesterol, so you should swap these with soya alternatives such as a handful of edamame beans or tofu.”
Other dairy alternatives include almond, hazelnut, rice and oat milks (look out for dairy-free, low-fat yoghurts and creams, too) and vegetable spreads.
If you enjoy the occasional snack throughout the day, why not make it a heart-healthy one? Dr Rupert Critchley says: “Avoid milk chocolate and try eating nuts like almonds instead as they actively help to reduce bad cholesterol.” HEART UK claims that eating just 30 - 35g of nuts per day has the potential to lower your cholesterol by an average of five per cent. Another study by the NHS reported that, on average, people who consumed 67g of nuts a day reduced their LDL cholesterol by 7.4 per cent. Not only are nuts a cholesterol-busting food, they’re also packed with protein, fibre, unsaturated fats, vitamin E and magnesium.
Up your sterols and stanols
Plant sterols and stanols are found naturally in a wide range of foods, including vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables; they work their magic by blocking cholesterol absorption in the gut. Linda Main, dietetic adviser at HEART UK says: “To keep your levels of LDL at bay, it’s recommended that an intake of 1.5 - 2.4g of plant sterols and stanols should be consumed every day. The EFSA register (European Food Safety Authority) has approved studies showing that by consuming the recommended daily allowence of plant sterols and stanols in the form of fortified foods, you can reduce your cholesterol by between seven and 10 per cent over the course of just 2-3 weeks. However, it is also worth noting that you can maintain cholesterol reduction as long as these foods are consumed on a regular basis, which means you need to sustain this change in your eating habits.”
To get the right amount of this nutrient into your diet you’ll need to eat foods that are fortified with sterols and stanols such as milk, yoghurt drinks and spreads like Flora ProActiv and Benecol. Just two teaspoons of fortified olive or plant-based spread, a 120g pot of fortified yoghurt, or a 250ml glass of fortifed milk can be enough to fulfil your recommended daily allowance and kickstart your journey to lower cholesterol.
Supercharge your grains
Oats and barley are two grains that are great for taking care of your ticker. HEART UK explains that oats and barley are rich in a form of soluble fibre called beta glucan which, once eaten, creates a gel that helps to bind cholesterol in the intestines, preventing it from being absorbed. The recommended daily intake of beta glucan is 3g, but foods that have just 1g of this type of fibre can still work to lower your cholesterol. To get 3g a day into your diet you should start your morning with a 30g bowl of porridge oats or eat two slices of bread made with at least 50 per cent oat flour for lunch.
Eat a rainbow
Fruits and vegetables are low in saturated fat and contain cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre. You should always get an array of fruit and veg into your diet, but if you’re specifically trying to reduce your cholesterol then it’s best to eat those that are richest in soluble fibre such as sweet potato, okra, aubergine, broccoli, apples, strawberries and prunes. By eating just 2-3 cauliflower or broccoli florets, or a large slice of melon, mango or pineapple, you’ll be well on your way to bringing your cholesterol level down.
Eating more than the recommended amount of saturated fat is the key culprit to increasing your cholesterol. The following foods certainly shouldn’t be consumed if you’re trying to cut down:
Butter, ghee, and margarine are rich in saturated fats, so swap them with low-fat spreads – you could even try using mashed avocado as a healthier fat replacement when baking!
Red meat such as beef, lamb and pork can be especially fatty, so trim off any excess, opt for leaner cuts and eat very occasionally. Keep sausages and processed meats to a minimum, too – there are some great veggie versions out there.
Ditch the coconut and palm oils for olive or rapeseed oil as they contain unsaturated fatty acids that can help to lower cholesterol levels.