What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by our liver and stored in the body. A healthy level of cholesterol is much needed in the body to function normally and produce certain essential hormones and vitamins. But high and unhealthy cholesterol levels affect the general health of the individual badly. However, it affects the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels) the most. To protect our heart, we need to have the ‘bad cholesterol’ (low-density lipoprotein - LDL) levels below a hundred and thirty milligrams per deciliter or below hundred milligrams per deciliter if one has diabetes. And maintain about forty to fifty milligrams per deciliter of ‘good cholesterol’ (high-density lipoproteins - HDL) in the blood.
How Do High Cholesterol Levels in the Body Affect One’s Heart?
One of the main reasons why people get heart failure is atherosclerosis, which means clogging up of arteries. Arteries are the type of blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients from the heart to different body parts. When the arteries are nice, clean, and healthy, the blood flows very easily through them. When the arteries closer to the heart get blocked, structures on the other side are deprived of sufficient oxygen and nutrients. That is how one gets a heart attack. And cholesterol is the substance that clogs up the arteries.
In another scenario, the plaques of cholesterol deposits inside the arteries may flake off and enter the bloodstream. On reaching important organs like the brain, it may obstruct the blood supply by blocking the smaller vessels and cause a fatal stroke. This is why regulating blood cholesterol levels is crucial.
How Can One Lower Cholesterol Levels Effectively?
Doctors recommend a combination of different strategies to lower cholesterol levels to avoid health risks. They are:
What Are the Best Dietary Components That Help Lower Bad Cholesterol (LDL) Levels?
A healthy diet is very important for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. For someone with high cholesterol, adopting a low cholesterol diet plan is the best way to lower, regulate, and maintain cholesterol levels. Doctors recommend including the following food groups in the diet:
- Whole Grains and Foods With a High Soluble Fiber - Are proven to help lower cholesterol. These foods include whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal, oat bran, barley, and psyllium husk fibers. Fruits like bananas, prunes, apples, and pears, pulses like kidney beans, Lima beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, etc., and vegetables like brinjal and okra are also rich sources of soluble fibers.
- Vegetables and Fruits - Contain a substance called stanol, which helps reduce the absorption of bad cholesterol into the body and prevents the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Lean Meats - Especially fish, chicken, and turkey.
- Herbs and Spices- Such as turmeric, garlic, ginger, etc., add flavor to the food and help lower bad cholesterol levels.
What Are the Types of Food One Should Avoid for Lowering Bad Cholesterol Levels?
There are several foods that one should avoid to keep cholesterol levels low, as most of them contain too many saturated fats. Saturated fat is the type of fat that raises cholesterol levels in the body. Ideally, it is recommended to limit the dietary cholesterol (cholesterol obtained from food and not produced by one’s liver) supply to three hundred milligrams per day.
One can find saturated fats in many types of foods, including:
- Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, etc. One should prefer the low-fat or no-fat version of these dairy products instead.
- Meats like beef and pork and chicken skin. It is better to consume lean meats like skinless chicken, turkey, or fish. Dietary cholesterol levels are higher in animal products such as seafood, beef, chicken, dairy products, and eggs.
- Avoid highly processed fatty meats like ground beef, hot dogs, sausages, and cold cuts.
- Minimize the consumption of fried and processed food as these often contain a lot of saturated fats.
- Avoid trans fats; it is the artificial fat found in processed foods like doughnuts, frozen pizzas, stick margarine, and many other products and is harmful to the body. In recent years people have been trying to reduce the number of trans fats in the food supply. One can refer to the nutrition fact label on the food packet to avoid foods with trans fats.
- Limit the consumption of added sugars, which means limiting sweets like cakes, cookies, ice creams, jellies, and sugary drinks.
- Limit alcohol - The extra calories in alcohol may cause weight gain and raise cholesterol levels.
What Are the Best Dietary Components That Help Improve Good Cholesterol (HDL) Levels?
It is important to include good sources of healthy fats that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They protect the heart from forming blood clots and inflammation. One may take:
Nuts and Seeds - Including walnuts, peanuts, and almonds, which are high in calories and good cholesterol.
Olives and Canola Oils - They can be used to replace butter or other saturated oils while cooking.
Avocados - They are a good source of nutrients and are very heart-healthy.
Fish - Salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, herring, and other fatty fishes are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
What Are the Ideal Methods of Food Preparation to Lower Cholesterol Levels?
The preparation method also affects cholesterol levels. To lower cholesterol, one should avoid fried and greasy foods. And use other methods of cooking such as; boiling, baking, roasting, grilling, or steaming. One may consume fruits and vegetables raw in the form of salads instead of cooking them. And limit excessive use of salt, as it may increase blood pressure levels and strain the heart.
Adopting a low cholesterol diet plan requires careful planning and implementation. One should periodically monitor the blood cholesterol levels to evaluate the changes as well. Changing food habits is the most natural way of lowering cholesterol, and it is definitely not about undereating or starving. One should make sure that the food is balanced with all the essential components like carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and adequate amounts of healthy fats. Additionally, one should drink plenty of water to stay healthy. A qualified dietician or doctor can help prepare a comprehensive diet plan to lower cholesterol levels.
Frequently Asked Questions