A: Cholesterol is one of the many chemical compounds in our bodies. It is used to build and maintain cell membranes between other functions. We need cholesterol to be healthy but we need to keep in check the levels of cholesterol traveling through our body.
Excessive levels of cholesterol in your bloodstream can lead to health problems and are strongly associated with coronary heart disease –high cholesterol levels are a much more common problem than low levels. A low cholesterol diet might be advised for people with abnormally high circulating levels of cholesterol.
What to eat – good foods in a low cholesterol diet:
A low cholesterol diet begins by reducing the total intake of fats –especially saturated fats, as they encourage the production cholesterol in the liver. The total fat in your diet should not make more than 30% of the calories consumed in a day, and saturated fat should not amount to more than 10% of daily calories.
Good to include in your diet:
• Oily fish – such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and trout; oily fish is low in saturated fats and high in omega-3 fatty acids which help to thin the blood, preventing the formation of clots and plaque in blood vessels.
• Fiber – It is good to increase your intake of fiber. Soluble fiber can bind to fats in the gut, slowing down their absorption and helping your body to manage fat more easily. Oats are a well known source of soluble fiber, as there are beans. Know your fiber facts.
• Fruits and vegetables – bring the antioxidant factor into play. Fruits and vegetables are rich in a host of good chemicals, vitamins and antioxidants to start with, which fight inflammation and prevent clogging of arteries. Those chemicals come in the right combinations inside of fruits and vegetables. For instance, garlic is a wonderful blood thinner and a good addition to any low cholesterol diet.
What not to eat – foods to avoid in a low cholesterol diet:
Foods to avoid are all those naturally high in cholesterol, saturated fats and fat in general.
• Avoid lard, butter, suet, hydrogenated cooking fats, margarines. As you need something to cook, choose monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats like olive oil or sunflower oil; rapeseed oil is being promoted as another healthy fat. Use these in moderation.
• Avoid egg yolk, it is naturally high in cholesterol and you don’t want to compound the problem. Though its effect is not as high as previously thought, it still has some. If you have high cholesterol, it is good to revise how many eggs you have in a week. Egg yolk is an ingredient in some salad dressings, salad cream and mayonnaise; include those in your allowance or skip them completely.
• Cream, whole milk, whole milk yogurt. An easy way to reduce your intake of fats is to skip cream and switch to fat free milk and yogurt.
• Avoid meats such as duck, goose, offal, sausages, pâté, salamis, and some deli meats. Choose lean meat instead.
• Fish roe, prawns, shrimp, lobster are naturally high in cholesterol.
• Avoid sweets, cookies, pastries, pies, packed desserts, toffee, ice cream, and packaged custards. Not only are they high in fat on their own, packaged meals might contain the wrong kind of fat, excess sugar is transformed into fat, as well, and adds to the problem.
• Be extremely careful with avocado pears, coconut oil –both high in saturated fats- and nuts. All of those have antioxidants –mainly vitamin E- and anti-inflammatory nutrients –mainly monounsaturated fats- and might be beneficial but are also high in saturated fats and too much fat in general is a stress factor for the liver.
• Be very careful with chocolate and chocolate products. Chocolate is high in saturated fat. Apparently dark chocolate does not raise LDL cholesterol levels and might even help to control it, but the amounts of chocolate required to achieve this effect would pile up the calories. Skip completely milk or white chocolate.
Exercise is extremely important in a diet aimed to lower cholesterol. The fat stored in our body can also be a source of cholesterol. Exercise burns body fat and regular exercise reduces the fat stored in our body. Apart from reducing the levels of harmful blood cholesterol, exercise will lower blood pressure, helps to keep blood vessels supple, reducing hardening and clogging, and improves the flow of blood to the heart.
If you are not an active person, start moving right now. Joining a group will make exercising more fun and help you to keep on with it. Start doing something simple, like walking or something very low impact like tai chi or yoga, but start.