Over 102 million Americans have high cholesterol. 35 million Americans have dangerously high cholesterol levels. This should be a matter of concern. Elevated cholesterol levels are suspected as a contributory factor for Coronary Heart Disease, and High Blood Pressure (Hypertension). High cholesterol can be caused by the foods we eat, but are there also foods to eat to lower cholesterol?
Cholesterol is not a disease in and of itself. It is a waxy substance resembling fat that is both produced by the body, and taken in with the food we eat. It is a vital substance that the body uses to manufacture hormones, Vitamin D, and bile. You cannot function normally without it.
There are actually two types of cholesterol. The first type, High Density Lipoproteins, absorbs excess amounts of the other type of cholesterol, and moves it to the liver, which then filters it from the body. The other type, Low Density Lipoproteins, make up the majority of cholesterol in the body. This is used to manufacture Vitamin D, hormones, and bile. The problem is that too much LDL cholesterol results in much of it not being used. This can build up in the blood vessels as a form of plaque, fatty deposits that can obstruct the flow of blood, resulting in higher blood pressures, and making the heart work harder to pump blood.
Elevated cholesterol levels can be caused by many factors. A high fat diet, high cholesterol diet, sedentary lifestyles, obesity, and genetic propensity are all contributory factors.
To bring about a balance, the idea is to raise the HDL levels, and reduce the LDL levels. There are drugs, called statin drugs such as Lipitor, that reduce cholesterol levels, but they have side effects as well. Fortunately, cholesterol levels can usually be controlled effectively with diet, and exercise. There are also herbs that work as good, or better than the prescription drugs, and cost much less.
Some of the herbs that can be used to lower cholesterol are Red Rice Yeast, Hawthorne Berry, Alfalfa, Turmeric, and Goldenseal. These contain naturally occurring statins that interfere with the synthesis of LDL cholesterol, promote circulation, and help reduce plaque build-up on the artery walls. Most herbs will work better if they are taken with CoQ-10 supplements.
To lower cholesterol with diet, the first thing to do is cut back on high-cholesterol foods. The major culprits here are margarines containing Trans fats. These lower the HDL levels, and raise LDL. They are also found in some cookies, crackers and other snacks. The next thing to reduce is your intake of saturated fats, which are present in red meat and pork, to a lesser extent in chicken and fish, some dairy products, and some cooking oils. Eggs are also particularly high in cholesterol. One egg contains around 213mg of cholesterol. The good news is that it is all in the yolk, so using egg whites-only is a great way to reduce your cholesterol intake. You can further reduce your cholesterol by using soy, or rice milk, instead of cows’ milk.
In addition to reducing the amount of foods you eat that can raise cholesterol, many foods can actually lower your LDL levels.
Here are a few foods to eat to lower cholesterol:
- Blueberries – one of the best things you can eat to lower cholesterol. This is also true to a slightly lesser extent, for all berries such as strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, blackberries, etc. They contain antioxidants called anthrocyanosides, which block the formation of LDL cholesterol, and remove plaque from blood vessels. There are various companies marketing the active ingredients from blueberries, at a high price, but the best way is to just eat more berries.
- Oatmeal, Oat Bran and other High Fiber Foods– these foods contain lots of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber reduces the amount of LDL cholesterol by bonding with it in the intestines, and not allowing it to enter the bloodstream. Soluble fiber is indigestible, so it simply passes out through the normal body functions, taking the excess LDL cholesterol with it. Soluble fiber also reduces the amount of LDL cholesterol formed in the liver, so the body has to use the LDL it has in the bloodstream, reducing the amount there as well. Oatmeal is cheap, delicious, and has few, if any, side effects.
- Fish – a delicious way to reduce cholesterol. Fatty fishes like salmon, tuna, mackerel, carp, sardines, and herring contain Omega 3 Fatty Acids. These inhibit the livers ability to produce triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol, forcing you body to use what it already has. Grilled, smoked, and poached salmon are excellent ways to reduce your LDL. If you really don’t like fish, you can take fish oil, or supplements, but use caution. High levels of Omega 3s can have some side effects, especially if you are diabetic. Never take more than 3 mg daily without a doctors supervision. It is unlikely that anyone could eat enough fish to get a dangerously high dosage of Omega 3s, so eating fish is the best way. You also get many more nutritional benefits from eating fish that you will not get with supplements alone.
- Olive Oil – one of my favorite kitchen condiments. Olive Oil is rich in phytosterols, and Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. These block absorption of LDL cholesterol from the digestive system. In addition, olive oil is exquisite with foods. You can make a great cholesterol-killing meal by tossing lettuce, tomatoes, onions, fresh mushrooms and thinly sliced turkey, and dressing it with a few tablespoons of garlic-infused olive oil. Superb!
- Fresh Vegetables – Lettuce, fresh spinach, cauliflower, greens, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers….all these can help reduce cholesterol, and they are scrumptious. You do not have to go completely vegan, but you can reduce the amount of meat you eat, and increase the amount of fresh veggies and fruit in your diet and significantly reduce your cholesterol levels. Uncooked vegetables work the best, because the high temperatures involved in cooking can destroy some of the anti-oxidants. This makes salads a very good choice.
- Fresh Fruits – apples, pears, grapes, peaches, berries, melons, and other fruits all contain natural cholesterol inhibitors. However, do not use canned or frozen fruits. These often contain sugar, and other things you do not need. Eat them the way they were intended, as fresh as possible.
Some people advocate the use of nuts to help lower cholesterol levels, but I can’t really recommend them for that purpose. Nuts do contain some phytosterols, but they are also very high in fat, and calories. To get enough of the active sterols to reduce your cholesterol, you will have to eat enough to put weight on, which would tend to counter the benefits. If you are very active, and exercise a lot, this is not a problem, but if you were doing that, you probably would not have high cholesterol in the first place.
Combining diet, with moderate exercise is the best way to control your cholesterol. You do not have to start running marathons, or spend 8 hours in the gym every day. Just a few minutes of light exercise, like jumping jacks, squat thrusts, or maybe a nice relaxing bike ride, or walk through the neighborhood a few times a week is plenty. You are not training for the Olympics, or the Tour D’ France. You just need to elevate your heart rate a little for about 15 minutes.
The other thing you can do to reduce high cholesterol is to maintain a healthy weight. You don’t have to go crazy, and reduce down to Twiggy, or Ally McBeal size, but just to a nice average weight for your size and build. Selecting foods to eat to reduce cholesterol, along with mild, regular exercise, can go a long way towards improving your health.