High Cholesterol Levels & Cholesterol Lowering Foods. Your Cheat Sheet On How to Lower Cholesterol by Dr. Clióna Murphy

Cholesterol. What is it?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the tissues of plants and animals. If you wanted to have a visualisation of cholesterol, it has been likened to soft candle wax. 

Our liver makes cholesterol and we also consume it in our diet.

Cholesterol has important uses in the human body. It is used for making vitamin D and steroid hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone.

When there is too much cholesterol in our blood from our diet, it ends up in our blood vessels. This can cause our arteries to become clogged, which is a process known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can result in heart attacks and strokes. 

One of the reasons atherosclerosis happens is because the human body has a limited ability to break down cholesterol. 

Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol Test 

For the majority of people, there are no symptoms of high cholesterol. That means, you will feel fine, and be healthy otherwise but have a high blood cholesterol level. Therefore, a blood test is required, which is known as a lipid panel. It is not necessary to be fasting for this. However, you may need a follow up repeat test fasting if your cholesterol is high. 

Is cholesterol bad

What cholesterol level is high?

Cholesterol levels are measured in mmol/l. Don’t worry about the units. We only mention units here, as some countries use different units, such as the USA. 

Total cholesterol (TC) is a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood. Anything over 5 is a high cholesterol level. 

HDL cholesterol level (AKA the good cholesterol), should be greater than 1.2mmol/L (women) and greater than 1 for men.

LDL cholesterol level (AKA the bad cholesterol) should be less than 3.

Non-HDL cholesterol level is your total cholesterol (TC) minus your HDL, which leaves all the bad cholesterol. This level should be 4 or less.

Triglyceride levels should be less than 1.34.

Sometimes on your cholesterol test you will see your TC:HDL ratio. This is your total cholesterol level divided by your HDL level (good cholesterol). The lower this figure is, the better. 

You can read more about cholesterol levels here. 

chart for cholesterol levels

Cholesterol - How to Lower It

The sooner you know your cholesterol levels the better.  We can then, as a result, make the necessary changes to our diet at an earlier age. 

What is needed is an honest and thorough look at our dietary habits as well as our lifestyle.

Diet

What is my current diet like? Do I eat a lot of foods that can raise cholesterol levels, like processed foods?

Can I reduce my intake of red meat, processed foods, and takeaways?

Do I know which foods can lower cholesterol? How could I incorporate them into my everyday diet?

Lifestyle 

Do I smoke? (Smoking raises cholesterol). 

What is my weekly alcohol  consumption? (Excessive alcohol raises cholesterol levels).

Am I spending too much time sitting in front of the TV or watching Netflix etc.?

How much do I exercise? (Exercise helps lower cholesterol). 

Do I get my 10,000 steps per day? (This helps lower cholesterol along with other risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure and weight).

mediterranean diet style table beneficial for cholesterol and heart health and other chronic diseases

Cholesterol Lowering Foods

Fibre

Soluble fibre, such as the oat beta-glucan in Cholestero-Low, substantially lowers total cholesterol and bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. 

Porridge, oats, inulin, and psyllium are all examples of soluble fibres. 

Good Fats

Eating more good fats, which are known as unsaturated fats, helps lower cholesterol and improves your good cholesterol. Examples of unsaturated fats are fatty fish such as mackerel and salmon, avocados, olive oil, and unprocessed nuts.

Fruit and Vegetables

The more fruit and vegetables you have in your daily diet, the better. According to studies, the more fruits and vegetables people eat per day, the lower their bad cholesterol (LDL). This is due to their antioxidant effect as well as containing fibre. Fruits and vegetables also form the basis of the Mediterranean Diet. 

The Mediterranean Diet 

The Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating that is based around the most consumed foods in countries in the Mediterranean, such as Italy and Greece. 

Cholesterol Lowering Foods on a Budget

We don’t have to break the bank trying to be healthy.

Bulk buying and purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables are some of the ways we can avoid splashing the cash on our cholesterol-lowering foods. This blog gives some more ideas on ways to lower cholesterol on a budget. 

Foods That Will Raise Your Cholesterol

trans fats bad for cholesterol

Any food that is high in saturated fats or contains trans fats, all processed foods and red meat especially processed meats, will all raise your cholesterol.

Processed Foods

Processed foods include ready-made meals, donuts, frozen pizzas, biscuits, etc. This blog post highlights the top foods that could be contributing to high cholesterol levels. 

Certain soups and stocks can be the culprits as, without us realising it, they contain high amounts of saturated fats. This is why it’s always worth taking a look at the ingredients on the back of food labels. Anything with palm fats or oil are very bad for heart health.

Any food that contains trans fats as part of the ingredient list should be avoided. If your daily diet consists of 2% or more  trans fats, the risk of dying from heart disease is up to 32% higher.

The problem with trans fats, is that it is not mandatory for companies to state on the food label that they contain trans fats.  What you might see, however, on the food label is “contains hydrogenated vegetable oil or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”.

Excess Red Meat. 

The more red meat in our diet, the higher our risk of heart disease. Excess red meat is also linked to poorer gut health and some gastrointestinal cancers. 

Eggs

It is always controversial to discuss eggs and cholesterol, and we delved deep into that controversy in a recent blog. In essence, a rigorous study looked at eggs and cholesterol and found that the more eggs consumed per week, the higher your cholesterol and risk of heart disease. 

 

Cholesterol Lowering Recipes

Here are some cholesterol lowering recipes which Dr. Clióna Murphy filmed for Heart Hacks Season 2. 

Lowering cholesterol with supplements

Cholestero-Lowᵀᴹ is a cholesterol lowering heart and gut supplement whose main ingredient is oat beta-glucan. Oat beta-glucan lowers cholesterol naturally. The supplement also contains CoQ10 for heart health and energy, as well as inulin. Inulin is a prebiotic, that feeds the good bacteria in the gut. It also aids in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Cholestero-Lowᵀᴹ comes in powder format within a tub with a scoop included. One serving is 2 flattened scoops, and it is best consumed in the morning. 

It can be made into a drink, or added to smoothies or cereal, and a second serving can be consumed, if desired or required. 

Natural cholesterol lowering supplement
CholesteroLow with Dr Cliona Murphy
Cholesterol lowering drink

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