Cholesterol: Everything You Need To Know That Nobody Ever Told You

When it comes to lowering cholesterol levels, there are key foods that have been shown to reduce elevated levels and, importantly, they don't cost the earth. Here are my top 5 foods (in addition to fruit and vegetables) to help lower cholesterol.

We've all heard of cholesterol before, but when a friend told me about a new protein (arginine) supplement he read about that claims to help reduce levels, I sighed thinking 'what costly new wonder product is on the market now?' We're all looking for something new and exciting to make us healthier, but we can't forget about the evidence-based information we know works!

To refresh your memories, cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is made by our livers and carried around our blood by protein. It plays a vital role in cellular function and is needed to make vitamin D, and some of our hormones and bile, which aids digestion. However, when levels become too high, you're at increased risk of getting heart and circulatory disease.

When cholesterol and protein are combined, they form either low-density (LDL) or high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is known as 'bad' cholesterol as too much is not healthy; whereas HDL is considered 'good' cholesterol as it has a protective effect.

When it comes to lowering cholesterol levels, there are key foods that have been shown to reduce elevated levels and, importantly, they don't cost the earth. Here are my top 5 foods (in addition to fruit and vegetables) to help lower cholesterol.

1) Oats and Barley

Oats and barley are excellent sources of soluble fibre, which bind to cholesterol in the digestive system and prevent it from being absorbed. Porridge oats or an oat-based cereal (e.g. Oat Cheerios) are great breakfast choices. Swap your sliced bread to one that contains 50% oat flour or add some oat cake biscuits to your healthy snack list.

2) Nuts

Rich in heart healthy oils, fibre, vegetable protein and magnesium, a handful (30-35g) of nuts is proven to lower LDL cholesterol by approximately 5%. Add almonds, brazils nut, walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios to your daily intake as healthy snack options.

3) Pulses

Extremely rich in soluble fibre, pulses are a brilliant food to introduce at meal times. Whether they're black-eyed peas or chickpeas, kidney beans or lentils, they can lower LDL cholesterol by up to 8%. Add some to salads, soups or enjoy them on their own. They're delicious and full of heart healthy benefits.

4) Oily Fish

Oily fish is packed full of omega-3 oils, which help to reduce harmful lipids in our blood. Oily fish can be used to replace fatty meats to help improve cholesterol levels. So why not grill some fresh sardines for lunch, have salmon steaks or mackerel on the BBQ, or try smoked salmon on rye bread at breakfast to help keep your health healthy?

5) Plant Sterols and Stanols

Naturally found in plants, sterols and stanols have a similar structure to cholesterol and work by absorbing and excreting it from the body. Taking 2-2.5g a day for three weeks has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels by up to 10%.

Cholesterol Myths BUSTED!!!

Finally, there are many myths surrounding cholesterol, the causes, what it is, how to improve your cholesterol levels... and many more. Here are the truths behind 5 of the most common myths I hear.

  • Cholesterol is not inherently bad. It plays a key role in cell production in our bodies, so we need some! Guidelines recommend total cholesterol levels should be less than 5mmol/L for healthy adults and 4mmol/L for those at risk of Heart Disease. LDL should be under 2mmol/L and HDL above 1mmol/L.
  • Eggs and prawns don't raise your cholesterol levels. Guidelines still recommend reducing foods high in saturated fat to reduce cholesterol levels.
  • '0mg cholesterol' does not make a food healthy. Trans fat found in packaged foods and saturated fat in animal meats and products are what you need to cut down.
  • Being thin doesn't mean you're healthy. Whether you're a size 8 or a size 16, you can still have high cholesterol levels so make sure you get your levels tested if you're worried.
  • Only doctors can test your cholesterol levels. Many people think you can only have your cholesterol tested by a GP who, if it's at an unhealthy level, will then refer your to a dietitian to help get it back to a healthy level and, in turn, help to reduce the associated health problems. Actually, dietitians can test your cholesterol levels and many other areas of your health too. Plus, we have a direct relationship with the patient's health tests, examining the results and helping to provide a long-term, effective solution to the problem. We also monitor your progress and help you to maintain the good effects you're achieving. So, if you're concerned about your cholesterol levels or any other dietary related health problems, it's definitely worth getting in tough with a dietitian as, when possible, natural solutions (e.g. weight loss, changes of diet and exercise regimes etc.) are always preferable to medical ones (e.g. operations and medications).

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