Very well conducted studies suggest a clear link between high cholesterol levels and heart disease. If you are struggling with high cholesterol, here is a nutritionist guide to lowering your cholesterol through diet.
Limit trans fats from your diet
Consuming a diet high in trans fats can lead to high cholesterol levels in the blood and therefore, it is important to limit your dietary intake. Trans fats can be found naturally in small amounts in some foods, such as animal products, including meat, milk and dairy foods. Artificial trans fats can be formed when oil goes through a process called hydrogenation, which makes the oil more solid (known as hardening). This type of fat, known as hydrogenated fat, can be used for frying or as an ingredient in processed foods. Artificial trans fats can be found in some processed foods such as biscuits and cakes, where they are sometimes used to help give products a longer shelf life. However thankfully in recent years, many
food manufacturers have removed trans fats from their products.
Limit saturated fat consumption
Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in butter and lard, pies, cakes and biscuits, fatty cuts of meat, sausages and bacon, and cheese and cream. The daily recommended limit for saturated fat is less than 30 grams and 20 grams for men and women respectively.
Choose healthier fats
Monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats can help to decrease cholesterol when substituted for trans and saturated fats.
Many oils contain MUFAs, including olive, safflower, canola, sunflower, avocado, sesame, and grape seed. MUFAs are also found in tasty foods like avocados, cashews, peanut butter, and various nuts and seeds.
In relation to PUFA’s, they can be found in oils such as soybean, corn, and safflower; seeds such as sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, and flax; fatty fish (one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids) like salmon, tuna, herring, trout, and sardines; soy milk and tofu; and walnuts.
Try using products containing plant sterols and stanols
Plant sterols and stanols (phytosterols) are found naturally in plants and are structurally similar to cholesterol. Due to the structural similarities to cholesterol, they are able to mimic cholesterol and compete with it for absorption.
Eating between 1.5- 2.4g of plant sterols each day can significantly reduce LDL (bad cholesterol) by up to 10% in those with raised cholesterol levels. Plant sterols and stanols fortified foods include milk, spreads and yoghurt. There is a range of branded (for e.g. Benecol) or own labelled products available.
Increase soluble fibre intake
There is sound evidence to show that soluble fibre (found in fruits, vegetables and cereals) has cholesterol lowering effects. In particular, beta glucans is a type of soluble fibre that has significantly been found to reduce cholesterol levels. The optimum daily amount of beta-glucans to help lower cholesterol is 3 grams (for e.g. a bowl of porridge or 2 tablespoons in oat bran). Beta Glucans are found in grains, especially oats and barley.
If you have been diagnosed with raised cholesterol levels, you may want to consider limiting your coffee intake because coffee (especially unfiltered coffee), has been found to raise blood cholesterol levels.
It is also important to note, the benefit that exercise plays in lowering cholesterol levels. Regular moderate exercise for e.g. brisk walking has been shown to lower your cholesterol by raising HDL levels (named ‘good’ cholesterol). HDL picks up excess cholesterol in your blood and takes it back to your liver where it’s broken down and removed from your body.
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N.B Please note, the dietary changes above can be used in conjunction with statins prescribed by your GP. Consult your GP for medication advice.
- NHS Choices
- Heart UK
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition