High blood cholesterol is a common problem throughout the world, often affecting people from their mid-30s onwards. However, with the rise in obesity and a diet abundant in fat and refined carbohydrates, high blood cholesterol levels are now being seen in younger adults even in their 20s. Diet is of course a factor, but so is genetics and other lifestyle aspects. Controlling what you eat and avoiding certain foods can therefore be helpful. But some foods even have the ability to help lower your cholesterol levels and should be consumed in larger amounts.
These cholesterol-fighting foods are not new. They are not specially designed super foods that cost large amounts of money. It is everyday food items that is easily available at most supermarkets yet not given much thought of for its cholesterol-fighting ability. The way these foods work differs. Some block the absorption of cholesterol from your digestive tract. Others contains ‘good fats’ that swing the balance in the favor of good cholesterol. These foods may at the very least minimize the effects of high blood cholesterol.
Why is cholesterol dangerous?
Cholesterol is very important for your health. Only about 20% is sourced from the diet and the other 80% is produced within the body. However, high levels of cholesterol in the body is a problem. Remember the problem is what happens over the long term with high blood cholesterol levels. Slowly cholesterol deposits form in the walls of arteries. It gradually narrows these arteries (atherosclerosis) thereby restricting blood flow to the target organ. Eventually it may be blocked if the fatty plaque ruptures or a blood clot obstructs the narrowing.
As a result, the blood supply is cut off and the target organ no longer gets enough oxygen. The seriousness of this depends on where it occurs. When it happens to the heart muscle, we refer to it as a myocardial infarction or simply as a heart attack. When it happens to the brain, we refer to it as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or stroke. These cardiovascular diseases, a heart attack and stroke, are some of the most common causes of death in the developed world. Much of it revolves around high blood cholesterol levels.
Most of us would not think of beans as a super food for lowering your cholesterol. But it is a healthy option when you consider that it is one of the fiber-rich legumes that we eat in relatively large amounts on a frequent basis. It is not just fiber that matters but the type of fiber which can block cholesterol absorption.
And this is where legumes like beans score as a cholesterol-fighting food. Beans are third in the line after cooked split peas and cooked lentils but considering that these legumes are not a large part of the Western diet, beans may instead be the way to go. Cooked black beans has almost one and a half times more fiber than cooked baked beans.
Another cholesterol-fighting food is oats. Whether you choose to eat it as oatmeal or in an oat bran muffin, oats contains soluble fiber that dissolves in the water in the digestive tract and binds to cholesterol. In this way cholesterol in the gut cannot be absorbed. It is the perfect way to start the day and ensure that you get a large portion of the daily fiber you need.
Oats is by no means the only cereal grain to have this benefit in the fight against high blood cholesterol. Whole-wheat spaghetti and cooked barley are better options in this range of foods but oats in all its forms is more widely available for an easy breakfast or quick snack. Air-popped popcorn and cooked brown rice are other great grain options for a snack or dinner apart from oats.
There may be more truth to the old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” when it comes to your blood cholesterol levels. Apples are loaded with fiber that can be useful for lowering blood cholesterol levels. A single apple may not do the trick. The average medium apple has about 4.5grams of fiber, whereas women need at least 21g daily and men 30g per day.
However, when consumed along with other cholesterol-fighting foods, apples can be a tasty snack to add to your total cholesterol intake. Even better is a pear (with skin) and raspberries are the most highly-packed fiber fruits. And if you want other high-fiber fruits that may not match that of apple, then you should also look at bananas, oranges and strawberries.
There is some confusion when it comes to nuts. One one hand nuts are said to be good for your blood cholesterol, but on the other hand there is the warning that it is high in calories and can contribute to obesity. Both statements are true. The key is to eat nuts to get the cholesterol benefit while controlling just how much you eat so as not to exceed your daily calories intake.
Walnuts, almonds, peanuts and other nuts have nutrients that are helpful for your blood cholesterol and protecting you against heart disease. Substances like polyunsaturated fatty acids are fats that are good for you. But stay away from the salted nuts or sugar-coated variety that can be a problem. Even nuts in its natural form should be eaten in moderation due to its high calorie content.
Omega-3 fatty acids is the buzzword when it comes to healthy blood cholesterol levels and a healthy heart. But it is not just hype. The fact is that studies have shown over and over again that consuming more omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial. One of the best sources is fish. If you are a meat-eater then fish should be your primary animal protein in order to lower your cholesterol levels.
Some fish are better than others. Fatty fish like mackerel, freshwater trout, herring, sardines, halibut and salmon are the better options since they have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. You should look at consuming at least 2 servings of fatty fish in a week, if not more. The way you prepare it is also important. Try to steam or bake fish but if you have to fry, then pan fry with a small amount of canola, flaxseed or olive oil.