By Georgia Pandelios, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Owner at Nutrition Prescription.
Cholesterol is one of those things about health that most people, if not everyone, will have heard of in their lifetime. It’s so common that 1 in 3 Australian adults have high total cholesterol levels and / or high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Although cholesterol is essential to bodily processes like making hormones and creating new cells, when we have high levels of LDL cholesterol, a build up of plaque can occur in our arteries – making it difficult for blood to flow. Eventually, this can lead to blockages that result in heart attacks or strokes. Fortunately, we also have something called HDL (good) cholesterol. HDL actually helps with removing LDL from the arteries, therefore reducing the risk of plaques forming.
Can diet help improve cholesterol levels?
Hippocrates “let food be thy medicine” comes to mind. Essentially, sufficient intake of good fats in our diet will benefit our good cholesterol, whilst consuming bad fats influence the bad cholesterol.
Our healthy fats include those unsaturated (mono and poly) fats that are found in nuts, seeds, olive oil and oily fish. Whilst our bad fats (saturated and trans fats) are found in fatty meats, processed foods, takeaway, full fat dairy palm oil and coconut oil.
There is also dietary cholesterol found in eggs, crustaceans and offal (e.g. liver). The reality is there is some fear around eating these foods because of past misinformation advertised. Unlike saturated fat, these don’t have a significant impact on our LDL cholesterol levels, so please enjoy these as part of a balanced diet.
The matrix of digestion is a bit more complicated, and things like fibre and natural plant chemicals actually interact with LDL cholesterol – helping to reduce it further. These include wholegrains, legumes, pulses, and fruits and vegetables with skin left on.
What does a cholesterol friendly diet look like?
The general foundation of a cholesterol friendly diet involves the following 6 actions:
1: Trim the fat off your meats, remove the skin and use leaner cuts of meat in your cooking. So put the petsa down if you have elevated LDL cholesterol levels. The crispy skin of the spit roasted Easter lamb for example, is a rich source of saturated fat – obviously this is why it tastes so good but generally it won’t do you any favours when it comes to your cholesterol.
2: Swap out full fat dairy for low fat dairy. Before the argument about sugar in milk comes up, please have a read of the nutrition label of low fat vs full fat milk. The difference in carbohydrates is negligible but the difference in fat (and energy) is significant – particularly useful if you are also trying to lose weight.
3: Eat oily fish or seafood two to three times a week. These are a great source of omega3 fatty acids, which are protective for our cholesterol levels, as well as an abundance of other health benefits.
Is diet the only way?
In short, no. Losing some weight if you are overweight or obese can also help improve cholesterol levels, as well as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, joint pain, systemic inflammation and even helps improve cell health (e.g. your sperm or oocytes) – just to name a few. Consider increasing your physical activity to help reduce cholesterol and weight at the same time.
Smoking also impacts cholesterol levels. I suggest talking to your doctor about quitting. Similarly, if you have difficulty controlling your alcohol intake, make sure to ask the doctor for support with this too.
If you need help with your cholesterol diet and lifestyle, contact Nutrition Prescription for a nutrition assessment with tailored nutrition recommendations. You can book through www.nutritionprescription.com.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nutrition Prescription accredited practising dietitians offer nutrition consultations that are specially designed for the whole family – from infants to adults and elderly, through to highly specialised fertility-preconception, paediatric, sports nutrition and food reaction services. We can assist with all your nutrition needs, including complex and chronic conditions – in English, Greek and Portuguese.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is generalised and is not intended to replace medical or dietetic advice, nor directly manage any medical conditions. For personalised advice, please speak with your doctor or contact us via email@example.com to make an appointment with one of our Dietitians.