Most doctors will tell you that high cholesterol is very bad for you; it clogs your arteries and eventually may lead to heart disease or stroke. What they don’t always tell you is that there are two types of cholesterol: LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (High-density lipoprotein).
- LDL is usually referred to as ‘Bad’ cholesterol. It can build up on the walls of your blood vessels (plaque) narrowing them and blocking blood flow to and from the heart and other organs, hence causing heart disease or stroke.
- Conversely high levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke! HDL absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body.
As we age we are far more likely to be tested for high cholesterol simply because we visit the doctors more often and they are rightly concerned about our health. If you are found to have high cholesterol you are probably going to be offered medication to lower it. Yet in many instances, a healthy lifestyle can lower our LDL cholesterol and improve our HDL levels to keep a good balance.
Here are a few simple ways to help produce good HDLs and reduce harmful LDLs:
- Transfats and saturated fats
Reduce both trans fats and saturated fats because they raise LDL and lower HDL.
- They’re found in cakes, pastry and fried foods, therefore, laying off the pies, pizza, biscuits and fish and chips (and takeaways in general) will instantly reduce your intake.
- Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats
Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids help to lower LDL:
- Many plant-derived oils such as sunflower oil, olive oil, grapeseed and peanut oils contain both.
- Seeds, nuts, soybeans avocados and fatty fish are very good sources of both poly and monounsaturated fats.
- Fruits and vegetables
Eat lots of highly coloured fruits and vegetables because they contain plenty of LDL lowering ingredients, including fibre and cholesterol-blocking molecules:
- Leafy greens (cabbage, kale and beats)
- Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.
As a general rule, the darker the shade the better the food is.
- Avoid refined grains and sugars and give up processed foods
Whole grains are another good source of fibre.
- Instead of refined white flour and rice use whole-wheat flour and brown or wild rice.
- Old-fashioned oats are another good choice but not the quick-cook type which has been highly processed and lost most of their fibre.
- Many manufacturers produce ‘low-fat’ products. However, to try and add flavours they add a lot of sugar. Low-fat dressings and sauces are full of sugar.
- Look for ingredients that end in ‘ose’. Glucose, fructose, sucrose and all of the other ‘oses’ are simply sugar!
Eat plenty of foods containing Omega-3 fats:
- Mackerel, Salmon, Herring, Trout, Sardines and Tuna are all oily fish. Eat a portion at least 2 -3 times a week.
- Walnuts, Brazil nuts, Cashews, Chia seeds, Flax seeds also contain Omega-3.
- Egg yolks are also a good source of Omega-3 and are no longer considered bad for cholesterol.
Taking certain supplements may help lower cholesterol levels. For example:
- Fish oil may lower triglyceride levels.
- Garlic supplements may reduce total cholesterol level.
It’s advisable to be cautious about taking supplements without checking with your doctor because they may have adverse side effects.
Exercise improves physical fitness and helps to reduce harmful LDL and increase beneficial HDL.
- A combination of aerobic and resistance exercise is ideal but any exercise, including walking, gardening and swimming, is good for your overall health.
Both too much and too little sleep could affect your cholesterol levels. Although studies have yet to fully investigate, most do seem to suggest that sleep does have an effect:
- Sleeping less than five hours at night raised the risk of LDL and low HDL levels in women although sleep more than eight hours also produced a similar result.
- Men were not as sensitive to oversleeping as women.
- Keep your stress levels down
There is very compelling evidence that high levels of stress can cause an increase in LDL cholesterol:
- The body releases a hormone called cortisol in response to stress. High levels of cortisol from long-term stress are found to increase cholesterol.
- A stressful lifestyle may also impact on a person’s eating habits. Often people who are under pressure reach for easy foods which tend to be high in sugars and saturated fats (Cakes, sweets, takeaways and other highly processed foods) which in turn raises LDL levels.
Not everyone who is overweight will have high LDL and not every slender human being has low LDL. However, if you keep an eye on your weight and monitor overeating or unhealthy eating you should maintain a very healthy balance between LDL and HDL.
As with anything in life, moderation in all things is a good premise by which to live. Eat too much, worry too much, work too much and your body will rebel. The sooner you start to monitor, moderate and take care of all bodily parts the healthier and fitter you will remain.