Lowering cholesterol through diet

Cholesterol is a substance that plays an important part in the production of vitamin D, hormones and bile. Its waxy consistency also give our cell membranes their flexibility and strength. The liver produces the amount of cholesterol the body needs, however more is gained through diet and acquired mainly by eating animal produce.

There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (‘bad cholesterol) and HDL (‘good cholesterol’). The amount of bad cholesterol should be kept low as an excess amount of LDL contributes to artery-clogging atherosclerosis, which can lead to stroke and heart attacks. The best way to lower your cholesterol is to incorporate foods that have the capacity to lower LDL levels while avoiding cholesterol-rich unhealthy foods.

Reducing cholesterol intake

High-cholesterol foods aren’t all unhealthy, and consuming products such as eggs and full fat yoghurt can fit into a balanced diet that supports healthy cholesterol levels. This is because dietary cholesterol (ie. foods that are naturally high in cholesterol) doesn’t affect cholesterol levels in the blood as much as unhealthy fats do. However, unhealthy cholesterol-rich foods should be avoided, particularly foods that are high in saturated fats and trans fats. These include:

  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Processed meat
  • Butter and lard
  • Cheese
  • Cream
  • Cakes
  • Biscuits
  • Products high in palm oil

As a lot of unhealthy cholesterol-rich foods come from animal produce, a vegetarian diet is typically the most efficient in reducing cholesterol levels. However, people who consume a diet that includes animal produce can reduce their cholesterol levels by choosing lower-fat spreads and dairy products; as well as opting for lean cuts of meat. It is also recommended to steam, poach and boil food as instead of frying or roasting produce as this will help reduce the amount of unhealthy fats consumed.

You can replace unhealthy fats with ‘healthy fats’ found in produce such as avocados, oily fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils and spreads. These tend to be high in polyunsaturated fats, which have also been found to help lower LDL cholesterol.

Fibre helps reduce cholesterol levels

Eating soluble fibre can help reduce cholesterol levels as it binds to cholesterol in the digestive system and expels it out of the body before it gets into the blood. There are plenty of high-fibre foods you can incorporate in your diet to help reduce your cholesterol. These include:

  • Wholemeal / wholewheat foods
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Eggplant

As a general guideline, adults should aim to eat over 30g of fibre a day.

Fortified food options

Many foods – including margarine, chocolate, orange juice, cereal and yoghurt – can be found in a form that is fortified in sterols and stanols. These are natural plant substances that can lower LDL cholesterol by approximately 10% per 2 grams. Such fortified foods are generally easy to distinguish and clearly labelled.

A cholesterol-friendly lifestyle can support your dietary efforts

Lowering cholesterol may start with adjusting your diet, however there are several lifestyle changes you can make to support your efforts and improve the results of your cholesterol-lowering diet:

  • Exercising is a great way to reduce cholesterol. High Intensity aerobic workouts are particularly effective in helping to reduce LDL.
  • Keeping a healthy weight also helps maintaining good cholesterol levels, and losing weight if you are overweight or obese also helps reduce LDL while increasing HDL.
  • Quitting smoking can dramatically reduce LDL levels, as well as reduce your chance of cancer and heart problems in the long-term.