Many people struggle with overweight, obesity, and cholesterol levels. These aspects of health are closely related to each other. However, you don’t need to gain weight.
Your cholesterol levels can be very high in a lean individual, and it all depends on his eating habits.
So, what is cholesterol, and what can you do to revert this problem? Luckily, one of the most effective and safe ways to lower cholesterol levels is by changing your diet.
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What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a common form of fatty acid we can find in the blood. It is a very small molecule with a chain structure.
All of your cells need cholesterol to perform their functions. Thus, far from being a bad thing, cholesterol is used by your cells to create hormones. What’s bad about cholesterol is having an excess due to an inadequate diet.
When you come across the topic of cholesterol, you’re likely to find a simple division. People talk about good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. We typically call VLDL and LDL cholesterol as bad cholesterol.
It is a molecule that spreads fatty acids in the body, contributing to atherosclerosis. Conversely, HDL cholesterol is known as good cholesterol. It is a molecule that gathers cholesterol and sweeps the blood vessels from any excess.
These blood markers are significant for cardiovascular disease prevention. The diet modifies them, but genetics may also have an important role (1).
How can I lower cholesterol with diet?
Cholesterol level depends widely on what we eat. Thus, many lifestyle changes contribute to increasing or lowering cholesterol levels. Any recommendation that contributes to weight loss can be appropriate. Eating healthily and doing the physical activity are basic pillars to maintain your cholesterol in check.
But what dietary recommendations can you follow to lower your cholesterol?
One of the best recommendations is controlling your fat intake. We tend to think eating fats is not appropriate. But that’s not the case. As I mentioned above, cholesterol is also essential to build hormones. All cells need fatty acids to create the structure of their wall. Fats are not the problem. The problem is the type of fat we are taking.
There are many types of fatty acids. We can break them down into saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and trans-fat. Saturated fat contains no double bonds.
Unsaturated fats contain one or more double bonds. Trans-fat is the same fatty acid with extra hydrogens. It’s better to choose unsaturated fats and reduce the intake of trans and saturated fats. This is simply done by avoiding processed foods and turning to a fresh vegetable diet.
If you have high cholesterol levels, choosing better sources of fat will definitely help. It typically causes a decrease in bad cholesterol and increases in HDL cholesterol. This is good news, and in most cases, it is enough to revert hypercholesterolemia (2).
Choose low cholesterol foods
Now we have identified the differences between fatty acids; there’s yet another step to take. It is simply avoiding foods that increase your blood cholesterol. Lead a low cholesterol diet and choose your fats carefully.
Consider that dietary cholesterol does not always increase blood cholesterol. One classic example is egg yolks, which were forbidden for many years.
People thought cholesterol in the yolk increased blood cholesterol. But that was not the case, at least not to the point doctors expected. That’s why the World Health Organization takes a more flexible position on an egg yolk. It is not forbidden to lower cholesterol, but you may want to avoid excess if you already have a problem (3).
Conversely, foods with saturated fats do increase cholesterol levels very rapidly. One clear example is red meat with fatty cuts. If you don’t take out the fatty portion, it will significantly increase your cholesterol. This is saturated fat, which sticks to the arteries and promotes atherosclerosis. Thus, always prefer lean meat and take out any remaining fatty portion (4).
Fruits and vegetables
Your diet should be based on fruits and vegetables. The majority of us do not consume enough and need to include more variation. Green leafy vegetables contain many nutrients and dietary fiber. There’s even more fiber in certain fruits as well as grains. But we should always prefer fresh foods to obtain full benefits.
Remember that each process in the industry strips nutrients out of foods. Other chemicals and preservatives may also spoil the whole nutritional pack.
But eating fresh fruits and vegetables maintains intact all of the nutrients and plant sterols nature has to offer. They may help you control your LDL cholesterol level, sugar levels, and much more (5).
Eat soluble fiber
There are two types of fiber. Soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. The former is adopts a gel-like structure after its contact with water. On the contrary, insoluble fiber does not mix with water and increases the bulk in the stools.
By combining with water, soluble fiber may also combine with bile from the gallbladder. This substance is spilled to the intestines and has a lot of cholesterol. In normal circumstances, this cholesterol will be reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
But soluble fiber binds with bile and prevents reabsorption of cholesterol. As a result, patients will reduce their cholesterol levels by increasing dietary fiber intake.
Recommended foods with soluble fiber include the majority of grains. Just make sure they are whole grains and not processed. Oat bran is also a great source of dietary fiber (6).
Limiting your salt intake is a fundamental recommendation if you have cholesterol problems. It won’t directly reduce your cholesterol levels, but there are other benefits.
Salt is simply sodium, and high sodium in your blood drags more water. The more water your arteries have, the stronger pump your heart needs to make to break the resistance. That’s why salt intake is associated with high blood pressure.
Moreover, not controlling your dietary salt may increase the risk of heart disease. That’s why it is essential to follow recommendations, especially if you’re overweight.
Limiting your salt intake may also help you choose your food more carefully. Indirectly, this will also help you achieve a low cholesterol diet. One clear example is processed meat. This type of meat is very tasty, and it is prepared with various spices and herbs. But it also has an overload of salt and preservatives.
Additionally, this type of meat includes fatty portions, and you can see that upon preparation. There’s no need to add oil or any other fat because they will distill fat upon heating. Thus, processed meat is a very bad idea if you want to keep cholesterol in check and care for your cardiovascular health (7).
Omega 3 fatty acids fish
We have already mentioned the importance of choosing your healthy fat. As mentioned, unsaturated fat is usually the best. This can be divided into monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. The only difference is the number of double bonds it has in the chemical structure.
The most popular polyunsaturated fats are known as Omega 3 fatty acids. In the market, you will find omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids. Their only difference is the number of carbons where the double bond is placed. In omega 3 fatty acids, the double bond is located in carbon number three. This is the most beneficial type of polyunsaturated fat, and we don’t often consume enough.
You can find Omega 3 fatty acids in fatty fish and avocado. There is also some proportion in olive oil. So, it is a good idea to adopt olive oil instead of any other vegetable oil as a salad dressing.
What Omega 3 does in the body is helping your cells create less inflammatory substances. It also regulates fat metabolism and allows your body to create more good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol). This particle clears the arteries and the whole body from excess fatty acids. Thus, it contributes to reducing atherosclerosis and cardiovascular risk. This effect is even more pronounced if we combine this nutrient with an active lifestyle (8).
Omega 3 fatty acids are useful as anti-inflammatories. When Omega-3 is converted into inflammatory substances, the inflammatory potential is not as violent. In contrast, the higher inflammatory potential in saturated fats creates something called a chronic inflammatory state.
A glass of wine is sometimes good every day, but don’t make hasty decisions. Remember that moderation is the key if you want to keep drinking alcohol healthy conduct.
If you consume the right type of alcohol, you may find a higher level of HDL cholesterol and other benefits. That’s not because of alcohol but other antioxidants found in red wine. According to studies, resveratrol is the most likely agent behind this equation.
But if we take a step forward and drink more than recommended, the effect will be the opposite. Alcohol excess can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. It raises your blood pressure and increases your bodyweight. And, more relevant to this topic, it increases your blood triglycerides.
Triglycerides are complex molecules that bind three fatty acid chains. All three are attached to a structure called glycerol. It has three available space for three different fatty acids. The problem is that triglycerides are associated with heart disease and fatty liver disease.
Thus, if you want to control blood lipids, it is recommended to limit your alcohol intake. If you’re pregnant or take certain medications, you should avoid alcohol entirely (10).
Drink green tea
Certain supplements and drinks may contribute to controlling high cholesterol levels. One of them is green tea. This is a popular tea from China. It comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, similar to black tea and oolong tea.
The only difference is that black tea undergoes fermentation. The majority of these beverages contain a substance that fights cholesterol and heart disease. They are antioxidants and help the body reduce the adverse effects of free radicals.
Why are antioxidants so important in a low cholesterol diet? The answer has to do with the process of atherosclerosis. Free radicals oxidize LDL cholesterol. Oxidized LDL contributes to creating the atherosclerotic plaque. Thus, by drinking green tea and antioxidant beverages, we can control this situation.
Additionally, many studies show that green tea is also a cholesterol-reducing agent. Total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels are reduced upon the administration of green tea. We can get lower LDL levels, especially in patients with dyslipidemia (high triglyceride and cholesterol levels) (11).
Consume few added sugars
We often associate sugar with carbohydrates and insulin, which is completely accurate. But an excess sugar converts into fatty acids. More specifically, all excess in sugars converts into triglycerides. That’s why it is recommended to control your sugar levels.
By far, the worst type of sugar is called added sugar. It comes listed in processed foods, and you can identify it very easily in the nutritional table.
If you’re aiming at lower cholesterol levels, make sure you’re also reading labels. Avoid consuming more than 36 grams of added sugar every day. This is equivalent to 150 calories or 9 teaspoons.
Cook with herbs and spices
Your preparation methods also play an important role in reducing your cholesterol levels. Just imagine a healthy salad, which is later seasoned with lots of sauces and vegetable oil. Or a lean cut of red meat that is fried in oil instead of steamed or grilled. In each scenario, you can find many ways to spoil a perfectly healthy recipe.
But the contrary is also true, and you can prepare your foods with added value. Cooking with herbs and spices has many benefits, especially if they are fresh.
Many spices can lower cholesterol, including cayenne pepper and cinnamon. Additionally, others have additional health benefits if you have a cardiovascular risk. For example, garlic is known to lower blood pressure naturally.
These spices can help to treat conditions such as diabetes and dyslipidemia (12). Some of them are a part of the Mediterranean diet and will give you a special taste. Thus, it is always recommended to try different spices to provide a flavor to your food and improve its nutritional value (13).
Blood cholesterol is often seen as a bad thing, but it is actually required for different body functions. There are good and bad cholesterol particles in the blood. Each one of them have different functions. What we want is to lower bad cholesterol (LDL level) and increase HDL level.
This can be done by adopting a Mediterranean or a Dash diet. Cholesterol-lowering diets have something in common. They all include fresh foods, and focus on fruits and vegetables.
It is important to choose healthy fat instead of saturated fat. And other recommendations include reducing added sugar intake, limiting alcohol, and drinking green tea.
More important still, lifestyle changes need to stay in your life as a new way of living. If you are determined to live and eat healthier, your body will notice. In no time you will find different results in your lipid profile. All you need to do is follow your physician’s advice and live healthier every day.