Many people rely on prescription drugs to keep their cholesterol levels in check. And while this might be the way to best guarantee that low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or bad cholesterol is kept in the balance, medical internist Dr Samantha Nicholson said that taking better care when planning your diet can actively help with increasing the levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or good fats in the diet.
“It is easy to eat your way to really high cholesterol levels — a condition that can significantly increase the possibility of diseases such as stroke or a heart attack. To reduce your possibility of these, a blanket statement from the leading health authorities is to increase fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy like low-fat yoghurt, oily fish, nuts and legumes and avoid red meat, sugars, processed meats and refined products,” Dr Nicolson-Spence said.
Below she shares a list of foods as well as how they contribute to high-density lipoproteins:
Red yeast rice
Red yeast rice is fermented rice developed by the Chinese to lower cholesterol levels. The Chinese and other Asian nationals have traditionally used its extract — lovastatin or monacolins, a naturally occurring substance — and other ingredients as a method of controlling and lowering cholesterol levels. Dr Nicholson-Spence explained that the substance is an active ingredient in many prescription drugs that medical professionals give to lower cholesterol. While it is still used in some parts of the world, Dr Nicholson-Spence said nowadays the cholesterol-fighting components (monacolins) have been removed and as such, it is not as efficacious.
Fruits such as apples, grapes, strawberries and citrus fruits are rich in a type of soluble fibre called pectin which has been found to reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.
Like fruits, Dr Nicholson-Spence said that vegetables are also a valuable source of cholesterol-lowering soluble fibres and as such, they also help with blocking some cholesterol from being absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream. So eat up your broccoli, Brussels sprouts, okra, eggplant, carrots and potatoes.
Legumes such as kidney and other beans, peas and lentils are also high in soluble fibre which also improve cholesterol levels.
Because of the rich amounts of soluble fibre that they deliver in the diet, Dr Nicholson-Spence said that whole grains such as quinoa, wheat, and bulgur are also very good for lowering cholesterol. Oats and barley also have the added benefit of beta-glucan, a type of fibre which forms a gel and binds cholesterol and bile in the intestines — a process which reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed from the gut into your blood.
Almonds, walnuts, pistachios and pecans have been found to be very effective in lowering cholesterol. Dr Nicholson-Spence notes that one study explored the effects of walnuts in combination with dark chocolate on cholesterol and found where levels are significantly lowered when the combo is consumed. Nuts are also rich in fibre which also reduces cholesterol levels.
Protein can be very beneficial to your diet; however, instead of consuming processed meat, Dr Nicholson-Spence said that you should consider substituting soybeans or soy protein for other harmful proteins in the diet. So instead of burgers and patties or bologna and salami, she said you may want to choose soy products such as tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yoghurt, edamame and soy nuts.
Fatty fish such as sardines and salmon have LDL-boosting saturated fats and also provide the body with LDL-lowering omega-3 fats that prove most effective when infused in the diet a few times each week.
Instead of using coconut oil and butter, consider replacing these in your kitchen with canola and olive oil. Dr Nicholson-Spence said that these have no saturated fat and will therefore not have a cholesterol raising effect. She recommends that you avoid the use of coconut oil because contrary to popular belief, it negatively affects cholesterol levels. So next time you sautée your vegetables or meat, make your dips or need a bit of flavour for your salad, use olive oil in place of butter.
Foods fortified with sterols and stanols
Foods that are developed with plant sterols or stanols described as plant chemicals which are a similar size and shape to cholesterol also affect cholesterol levels positively. What happens is that these chemicals are absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream and in turn block some cholesterol from being absorbed, thereby lowering cholesterol in the blood. Some foods that are commonly fortified include yoghurt drinks, fat spreads, milk and yoghurt.