Whilst having some cholesterol in our blood is essential for survival, we can also have too much of it, which can increase our risk of an adverse heart event.
To keep things simple, there are two main types of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol, also referred to as ‘bad ’cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL-cholesterol also referred to as ‘good ’cholesterol).
HDL cholesterol tends to have a heart-protective effect helping to remove other forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream and in doing so, preventing it from building up in the arteries. Whilst LDL cholesterol is the main source of cholesterol build-up and blockage in the arteries, thereby increasing your risk of heart disease.
One of the best ways to lower your cholesterol levels is through your diet. Following a heart-healthy eating pattern can, over time, help to reduce your ‘bad ’cholesterol and increase your ‘good’ cholesterol, thereby having a heart-protective effect.
A heart-healthy eating pattern doesn’t have to be complicated. Here I share my top tips for reducing cholesterol, naturally:
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables daily
Despite fruit and vegetables being some of the most nutrient-dense foods, the majority of Australians aren’t eating nearly enough of them. These food groups are packed full of essential vitamins and minerals, alongside antioxidants and fibre which are vital for your heart health! Aim for five plus servings of vegetables a day and two to three serves of fruit per day.
Limit or reduce your intake of foods high in saturated fats
Foods high in saturated fat include fried foods, processed meat (e.g. salami & sausages), chips, pastries, pies, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, meat (in particular red meat and the skin of chicken), butter and other full-fat dairy products, along with some oils such as palm oil and coconut oil. Other coconut products such as coconut cream and milk also contain high amounts of saturated fat.
Instead, opt for foods higher in unsaturated fats such as nuts and seeds, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, rice bran oil (and more), as well as oily fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel.
If you’re a dairy lover, opt for reduced-fat alternatives such as low-fat yoghurt, skim milk, or light coconut milk. When eating meat, cut off any visible fat, remove the skin and aim to have red meat no more than one to three times each week and no more than once or twice each week for processed meat.
Eat plenty of fibre-rich foods
Not only does fibre help to keep your bowels regular, but it also assists in regulating your blood sugars and helps support a healthy gut, helping to reduce your cholesterol and therefore, your risk of heart disease.
Soluble fibre, in particular, can help to reduce the amount of saturated fat that is absorbed from food into your bloodstream, thereby reducing and/or preventing an increase in your LDL and total cholesterol. Soluble fibre can be found in foods such as whole oats, legumes (such as beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas), fruits, vegetables, seeds, barley, and psyllium. By including fibre in every meal, you’ll reap the full benefits!
Incorporate plant sterol-enriched foods
Much like soluble fibre, plant sterols can help to decrease the absorption of cholesterol in the body. There are multiple products that are enriched with plant sterols including Proactiv butter and other margarine, HeartActive milk, Cholesterol-lowering Weet-bix, and Carman’s cholesterol-lowering oats, to name a few. Additionally, you can also increase your plant sterol intake by eating more plant-based foods or adding a plant sterol supplement to your diet.
While it is certainly possible to eat your way to lower cholesterol, one highly underrated but incredibly effective way to lower cholesterol naturally is to move your body, daily! Cardio exercise and resistance training have been shown to be particularly helpful in controlling and lowering cholesterol levels, however engaging in any form of movement that you enjoy and that will be sustainable in the long term is key, whether that’s water aerobics, pilates or a walk around the block.
Around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise is recommended weekly. If you are currently doing very little or no physical activity, start small. Make it achievable for where you’re at now and work your way up because guaranteed, it’ll help to bring those cholesterol levels down!
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.