Lots of our clients ask us “how can I lower my cholesterol levels” without pills. Is it possible? Yes, diet changes have long been known to improve cholesterol levels in most adults.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is essential in your body. It makes hormones and protects cell walls (among other things). There are two types of cholesterol, LDL (the bad cholesterol) and HDL (the good cholesterol). LDL can block blood vessels leading to narrowing and a condition called arteriosclerosis. Blocked blood vessels lead to heart attacks, strokes and difficulty with wound healing. HDL Cholesterol is protective, it helps to clean your blood of LDL cholesterol and to keep arteries clear. So you want more HDL and less LDL.
Triglycerides are another type of fat in our bloodstream. While they act differently, high triglyceride levels are shown also block arteries and are highly predictive of heart attacks and heart disease.
How Does Diet Affect Cholesterol?
Eating saturated fats is the number one dietary factor that increases your LDL cholesterol. However, eating unsaturated will help to lower LDL cholesterol and increase the HDL cholesterol. Lastly, a high intake of alcohol and high sugar foods will increase triglycerides.
Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products (particularly fatty cuts, cream, sour cream, butter and cheese) and some oils like palm and coconut oil. Don’t forget, that these fats will increase your LDL cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats are also known as ‘healthy fats’ and are made of mono and polyunsaturated fats. They are found in many vegetable oils like olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish like salmon. These fats will help to increase your HDL cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is naturally found in eggs, shellfish, and offal (organ meats such as liver and kidneys). It was thought that eating cholesterol (in food) would increase blood cholesterol levels, however, this advice is out of date. More recent research (published in 2019) showed eating cholesterol has no impact on blood cholesterol levels. Shellfish and seafood particularly should be included in a healthy diet as the omega-3 in these foods is very healthy for the heart.
Sugars and alcohol are both known to increase triglycerides if they are consumed in excess. One glass of wine or the odd birthday cake does not increase triglycerides. However, a large amount of alcohol (above the recommended 10 drinks per week) or frequent and large amounts of foods high in added sugars (lollies, sweet drinks, blocks of chocolate) have been shown to increase blood triglycerides levels.
Dietary Changes You Can Make
- Replace foods high in saturated fats (such as butter/cream) with foods high in unsaturated fats (such as olive oil or avocado)
- Keep your alcohol intake to less than 10 drinks in a week
- Replace high sugar foods (lollies, soft drinks, juice, iced teas) with unsaturated fat foods (nuts, avocado, seeds)
- Increase your omega-3 intake by eating more oily fish like salmon, prawns, mussels and seeds (like chia and flaxseeds).
- Add more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to boost your fibre intake. Fibre acts like a broom sweeping bad cholesterol out of your intestines
- Eat more oats for those beta-glucans
- Choose very lean meat cuts such as chicken, turkey mince or lean kangaroo and avoid the fatty cuts (lamb leg or shoulder, pork belly or chicken wings).
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