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Cholesterol is not all bad, it plays a vital role in our body. It is needed to make hormones and aids in digesting fat. There are two main sources of cholesterol: what our bodies make and the food we eat. Both sources influence the blood levels, with most cholesterol made in our body. We only need a small amount of cholesterol; too much will increase the risk of heart disease. When evaluating this risk, it is not just the total blood cholesterol but the type of cholesterol that is key.
Main Types of Cholesterol
LDL: the “bad cholesterol” or low density lipoprotein. May lead to accumulation of plaque in the blood vessels. The higher the LDL the greater the risk for heart disease.
HDL: the “good cholesterol” or high density lipoprotein. May carry the cholesterol out of the blood vessels, helping prevent plaque build-up, reducing the risk of heart disease.
Reducing Blood Cholesterol
What we eat, along with other lifestyle factors, can play a significant role in reducing cholesterol levels. Key factors are:
- Cut back on foods high in cholesterol, limit to 300 mg per day: found in animal products.
- Limit saturated fats and avoid all trans fats: saturated fats are in meats, poultry, egg yolks, full fat dairy products and fats that are solid at room temperature. Trans or hydrogenated fats are often found in baked goods, crackers and snacks.
- Maintain a healthy body weight, do not smoke and be as active as possible. Try 30 minutes of physical activity each day– check with your doctor when starting an exercise plan.
Foods that Help Combat Cholesterol
Recent research suggests that there may be more to lowering cholesterol than just reducing saturated fat, eating less cholesterol and the noted lifestyle changes. It appears certain foods can boost the benefits of reducing saturated fat in lowering cholesterol and protecting the heart:
- Fiber– apples, pears, prunes, barley, oats and legumes
- Fish & Omega 3s – at least 2-3 servings a week; trout, herring, sardines, salmon, tuna and halibut
- Nuts - walnuts, almonds and pistachios
- Olive Oil - a monounsaturated fat.
- Foods with added plant sterols - spreads & orange juice may be fortified with sterols
- Other Foods to Consider- dark chocolate, cinnamon and garlic
The Bottom Line:
There is no one food that will combat cholesterol alone. The best strategy is to make the most of your food choices and keep the lifestyle factors in check. Focus on colorful vegetables, fruits and whole grains for fiber. Aim for more fish for omega 3s and choose leaner cuts of meat. Limit fatty meats (to keep saturated fat down), processed foods and added sugar. Choose non-fat or 1% dairy products and avoid fried foods. Do not eliminate fats completely; include healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and olive oil. However, watch portions to keep calories in balance to maintain or achieve a healthy body weight.
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