Low cholesterol diet: Like fat and carbohydrates there are good and bad forms of cholesterol, and maintaining the correct balance or ratio of these levels may be one of the most beneficial things we can do for our heart health.
Traditionally associated with older, overweight men, high cholesterol can potentially effect just about anyone at any stage in life. The good news is there are many simple, effective and importantly tasty ways to take control of our cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring and essential part of our physiology; fundamental for cellular development and important in metabolic processes responsible for hormone, bile and vitamin D production. Our body, like all animals has the ability to produce all the cholesterol it needs, which is why eating a diet free of added cholesterol will ultimately do no harm.
This also explains why cholesterol is derived only from animal products such as meat and dairy, however it is saturated fat that has the most influence blood cholesterol levels. Animal products such as eggs, seafood and dairy products naturally low in saturated fats are acceptable for a low or no cholesterol diet despite general beliefs.
Divided into Low density lipoprotein (LDL) and High density lipoprotein (HDL) each type of cholesterol plays a distinctly different role. Too much LDL in the blood and gradually plaque or fatty LDL deposits will form and the risk of developing atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries increases.
According to the Heart Foundation, high blood cholesterol is responsible for almost 12% of all deaths in Australia in the form of heart attacks, strokes, circulatory problems and even kidney disease. Similarly having too little HLD (the good stuff) can increase your risk of a heart attack, as the primary role of HDL is to remove unused LDL from the blood stream.
If you are unsure of your cholesterol levels ask your doctor for a baseline test, there are many lifestyle and dietary options available to boost your HDL and naturally lower LDL levels. Avoiding or lowering the intake of saturated fats is the quickest, easiest and best way to lower cholesterol levels but it’s not the only thing we can do. Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids such as nuts, particularly walnuts, Brazil nuts and almonds as well as fatty fish will help improve the LDL to HDL ratio, while also lowering blood pressure, further reducing the risk of clots.
Incorporating foods into the diet that contain beneficial plant sterols too will further reduce cholesterol absorption from the gut, consequently reducing overall LDL cholesterol in the blood.
Plant sterols are found in small amounts in:
Increasing the consumption of soluble fibre will also help reduce cholesterol absorption, so foods such as:
A low cholesterol diet is essentially vegan, comprising of no animal products except fish, however there are many low fat substitutes available such as margarine spread instead of butter that allow for a less extreme approach.
Developing and following a low cholesterol diet need not be excessively restrictive or boring, simply select fresh, whole or minimally processed foods from the right categories. Avoid saturated fats by taking simple measures such as trimming meat and replacing whole fat dairy with some of the many low fat varieties available.
It is however especially important to avoid Trans fats or hydrogenated plant oils as not only do they raise the levels of LDL in the blood stream but will also reduce HDL levels, a definite double negative. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive, peanut and canola oils should replace all saturated fats in the diet as they further reduce LDL’s and improve HDL's anti-inflammatory abilities.
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