For the health-conscious, there are few dietary nemeses as feared as cholesterol. In and of itself, there’s not too much to fear from the fat-related molecule, which plays a key role in the structure of the cells in your body. When too much builds up in your blood and blood vessels, though, it can lead to high blood pressure and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Know how cholesterol works
The first thing to know is that cholesterol, for our purposes, comes in two categories:
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), a.k.a. “good cholesterol”, which can help filter low-density lipoprotein
- High-density lipoprotein (LDL), a.k.a. “bad cholesterol”, which can easily build up in your blood and blood vessels
Unfortunately, LDL cholesterol – bad cholesterol – can’t simply be cut out by eating less. It also can’t be burned off with exercise. Fortunately, though, exercise does boost the body’s metabolism and helps it reduce the bad cholesterol in favour of the good. Dieting, too, can reduce bad cholesterol – but the quality of the food is more important than the quantity.
Despite what myriad internet lists will promise, there are no silver bullet superfoods that can melt away bad cholesterol. But there are some simple, straightforward diet choices you can make to cut back bad cholesterol.
Fibre, fibre, fibre
Oats, whether in granola, porridge or cereal, are famous for lowering cholesterol. The secret is fibre. Oats are loaded with soluble fibre, which has been shown to absorb and lower LDL cholesterol. For every 100 grams of oats, you get about 10 grams of fibre – an amazing, cholesterol-fighting bang for your buck.
Fruits and veggies are also excellent sources of fibre. In fact, it’s their best nutritional draw and the reason fruit juice (which nixes the majority of the fibre, leaving mostly sugar) has faced a nutritional backlash.
Beans, too, are a cholesterol-fighting double feature. First, they are rich in soluble fibre. Second, unlike meat and other animal products, which have saturated fats that increase LDL cholesterol, beans are a good source of protein that won’t bring bad cholesterol to the table.
Cut animal products
While fibre can help reduce your levels of LDL cholesterol, another tactic is to not consume so much of it in the first place. Saturated fats from animal products like red meat, poultry and animal fat can cause the body to produce LDL. Eating other sources of fat and protein, especially unsaturated fats, has been shown to reduce the amount of LDL.
Here are some foods that can replace the animals in your diet:
- Soybeans, including tofu and soy milk
- Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, peanuts and cashews
- Beans (now featuring fibre!)
- Whey protein supplement (protein without fat or carbohydrates)
- Olive oil (unsaturated fat to replace butter and grease)
While we’re talking about swapping bad, cholesterol-rich fat and protein sources with good ones, we shouldn’t overlook fish. They are often praised for their Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which lower LDL cholesterol and have been linked to improved heart health and reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.
These benefits can be achieved by replacing three or four of your weekly meat servings with fish. But be sure to choose “fatty” fish – that is, those with high amounts of Omega 3’s.
Appendix: Do eggs raise cholesterol?
Eggs are one of the most concentrated sources of dietary cholesterol, which led to them being pretty much immediately vilified when cholesterol research hit the scene in the 1970s. But later research shows that eating eggs, yolk and all, actually has a lower impact on the LDL content in your blood than the saturated fats in animal meat. In fact, in 2000 the American Heart Association revised its guidelines to keep eggs off its cholesterol blacklist.