Lowering Your Cholesterol

Here at Instructor Live, we wanted to look at this idea in a little more detail. We want to know if cholesterol is as bad as we are led to believe and if we do need to keep those levels low, how do we do it?

What is Cholesterol?

The liver naturally creates cholesterol. It is an essential building block for cell membranes. This means it keeps our cells in shape and whole! Not only that but cholesterol is involved in producing hormones, especially sex hormones. It’s involved in making vitamin D from the sunlight and, finally, it helps make bile in the liver.  Bile is a substance that helps us digest fatty foods. So without sufficient cholesterol, our ability to break down fatty foods could be affected. 

As you can see, cholesterol serves many important roles in the body, so we certainly need it.  The issue is that some lifestyles and genetic predispositions can result in the body making too much cholesterol, which can build up in the arteries, blocking blood flow, leading to a whole host of diseases.  

Cholesterol: Friend or Foe?

There are two types of cholesterol, one is low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL).  

LDL deposits one type of cholesterol throughout the body, and this is the one that could build-up leading to serious issues.  This is the one that we tend to deem as “bad” cholesterol. 

HDL, however, collects LDL cholesterol and brings it back to the liver for removal.  This is the one that is deemed “good” cholesterol.  It’s almost like the road sweep for cholesterol. 

Dietary guidelines have often suggested that we limit our intake of cholesterol to avoid the build-up of bad cholesterol, but more recently these limitations have been removed.  

To date, there is a lack of evidence suggesting that dietary cholesterol has any impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease. What this means is that limiting cholesterol-containing foods has little impact on the cholesterol levels found in the blood. (i) There have, however, been associations between cholesterol-containing foods and the risk of cardiovascular disease. But it is now considered that this is more relating to the fat found in the food rather than the cholesterol. 

Types of Fat

Most foods that are high in cholesterol, are often rich in saturated fat. Decades of research tells us that the more saturated fats we eat, the higher the risk of cardiovascular disease. (i)

👉 Saturated fat is found in ghee, palm oil, coconut oil, fat in meat, sausages, bacon, cured meats like salami, chorizo and pancetta, cheese. There is also increasing data that suggests that the inclusion of trans fats increases levels of LDL cholesterol and decreases HDL cholesterol. 

Trans fats are found in vegetable oils and in fried, baked, and packaged foods.  Manufacturers usually use an artificial process called hydrogenation to produce them.  

When New York State placed a ban on trans fats, there was a 6.2% reduction in hospital admissions for heart attacks and stroke! (i)

👇 Tips 👇

Food high in trans fats

This is the first tip in managing healthy cholesterol levels.; avoid foods containing trans fats like:

  • Packaged biscuits, cakes, donuts and pastries
  • Crisps and crackers
  • Commercially fried foods
  • Buttered popcorn 
  • Products containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils

It would also be wise to reduce the intake of foods with high saturated oil content. The biggest contender here is processed meats like bacon and sausages.  

Fat is Not The Enemy 

It would be easy to think that a low-fat diet may solve all the problems, but it won’t.  We need fat, it’s important in brain function, and we also need it to help us absorb and utilise those fats-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. 

We just need to eat the right type of fat.  Opt for beneficial unsaturated fat which is found in olive oil, avocados, nuts like almonds, Brazil nuts, and peanuts along with those oily fish like sardines, salmon, mackerel and more!

Low Fat

You may find a range of products that state they are low fat and think these may be a good option. Just remember, for the label of low fat, they only have to contain 30% less fat than a similar product.  If that product is naturally high in fat, there may still be a high-fat content, even at 30% less.  Lower in fat also doesn’t mean lower in calories.

The bottom line?  You often don’t need to reduce fat – you just need to eat the right type!  Swap those saturated fats for unsaturated.

Lowering Your Cholesterol

Fibre is your friend

It’s not only important for our digestive health, and mood, but it’s also important for our hearts. (i)

Fibre comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble and soluble fibre actually binds to cholesterol and helps remove it.

Fibre also has the benefit of helping modulate blood sugar levels too! Win-win!

Some cholesterol-friendly fibre options to consider:

  • Nuts
  • Seeds 
  • Legumes 
  • Chia
  • Flaxseed
  • Beans
  • Oranges 
  • Blueberries 
  • Brussel sprouts 

As you have likely gathered, cholesterol is not the enemy – we need it, but in the right amounts. Certain dietary choices, which include high levels of saturated and trans fat have been seen to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and so avoiding these as much as possible is a great place to start.  

Considerations

We often find it hard to remove foods from our diet, so first, look at what you can include.  Consuming a diet rich in fibre, whole fruits and vegetables with lean protein sources can help; the more attention we are paying to what we can include in our diet, the easier we find it to not think about the foods we need to reduce. 

And if you wondered, exercise could improve cholesterol balance too. Moderate activity has been seen to increase HDL cholesterol, which as we mentioned is like the road sweep for bad cholesterol. (i)