To help reduce cholesterol levels there are three main factors to focus on; improve your diet, exercise more often and find ways to de-stress. Sounds like an over simple explanation but it really does work!
Diet – What do I eat and what should I avoid?
Foods to avoid. Let’s start with the obvious. Avoid processed foods which are high in cholesterol and full of additives. Replace processed foods with meals cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients.
Which oils are best to use for cooking and salads?
The best oils to use for cooking are extra virgin olive oil for drizzling over salads or using in raw dishes such as hummus and for cooking at lower temperatures. Coconut oil is ideal for stir fries and other dishes which require a much higher cooking temperature. Check the packaging to check the ingredients and make sure the oil you are buying is as fresh as possible. Coconut oil and olive oil are the best options to cook with for two main reasons.
Firstly, both coconut oil and olive oil reach smoking point at a higher temperature compared to seed oils such as sunflower seed oil or sesame seed oil, so they are less likely to burn than seed oils which become potentially carcinogenic once they reach smoking point.
Secondly, many seed oils are sprayed with harmful chemicals, stored for long periods before use and highly processed in comparison to cold pressed extra virgin olive oil or extra virgin coconut oil which use more traditional, safer production methods.
Butter or ghee contain animal saturated fat so should only be used for the occasional treats, not for cooking on a regular basis. Avoid using any margarines or low fat spreads
Are nuts a healthy snack to eat if you have high cholesterol?
Yes, they are. Nuts are a great addition to your diet as they are rich in fibre, unsaturated fats, vegetable protein, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, natural plant sterols and a wide range of beneficial plant nutrients. A handful of nuts per day which is approximately 30-35g per day has the potential to lower cholesterol by an average of 5%.
How many portions of fruits and vegetables are recommended per day?
Depending on the country you live in, the recommendations vary from a minimum of five portions of fruits and vegetables per day in most European countries through to Japan where they recommend 18-20 portions per day!
Why are fruits and vegetables so good for us to eat every day?
Fruits and vegetables are low in saturated fat so increasing the amount we eat in our daily diet helps us to lower our saturated fat intake. They are also an important source of cholesterol lowering soluble fibres. Remember to include lentils, beans and peas too, as they are high in protein and rich in soluble fibre. Other vegetables which are also a rich source of soluble fibre include okra – also known as ladies’ fingers, aubergine, broccoli, sweet potatoes, prunes, apples, pears and strawberries.
How do barley and oats help to reduce cholesterol and how much should we eat per day?
Both barley and oats are high in beta glucan which is a kind of soluble fibre. When you eat foods rich in beta glucan it then forms a gel which helps to bind cholesterol inside the intestines helping prevent cholesterol from being absorbed by our bodies. The recommended daily amount to eat is around 3g per day of beta glucan. So homemade porridge, overnight oats, flapjacks, protein balls and sour dough barley bread are a great choice for breakfast or as a snack. You can also make your own oat milk and keep the leftover solids to add to a stew, soup or curry.
What are plant sterols and why are they good to include in your diet?
Plant sterols are very similar to cholesterol in structure. There are two kinds – sterols and stanols. Both of which offer cholesterol lowering effects. Plant sterols and stanols occur naturally in many foods we eat – fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, whole grains and pulses.
To achieve the optimum intake level of plant sterols in your daily diet it is advisable to eat more plant-based foods and reduce the amount of red meat, poultry, dairy and fish you eat in your diet. It is better to eat smaller portions and choose better quality cuts of fresh meat and fresh fish – grass fed, free range or organic and choose line caught, wild fish rather than farmed, frozen or tinned fish.
A daily intake of 1.5-2.4g plant sterols and stanols can potentially reduce cholesterol levels by 7-10% over 2-3 weeks by blocking cholesterol absorption in the gut.
Are all saturated fats bad for you?
The answer is no. Some saturated fats are good for you and should be eaten regularly. For example, avocado is rich in saturated fat as is coconut oil. Both are very beneficial for your daily diet. Avocado has cholesterol lowering properties which will help you achieve a balanced level when eaten on a regular basis.
How often should I exercise?
Twenty minutes of specific daily exercise is really beneficial alongside being generally active. Don’t spend long periods of time sitting or lying down during the day. Try to get up once an hour and move around a bit for at least 5 minutes. Use the stairs instead of the lift and go for a gentle stroll in the evening if you have had a less active day. A little and often is a good way to start rather than over exercising one day per week!
How can I de-stress?
Stress is something we all have to deal with on a daily basis. There are lots of techniques to help us reduce stress levels. Some people like to exercise, listen to music, go for a walk or a swim. Breathing exercises are also beneficial as they help you to relax and make you focus on your breathing rather than what is stressing you out! Mindfulness and meditation techniques are also really useful to help you relax and deal with stress more successfully.