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How To Follow a Low Cholesterol Diet: Foods to Eat and Tips

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in the fats (lipids) in your blood. Your body actually needs cholesterol to build healthy cells. However, having high cholesterol can increase the risk of a heart disease.

There are two types of cholesterol, good and bad cholesterol. When your cholesterol is high, you develop fatty deposits in the blood vessels, making it difficult for blood to flow through your arteries. Your heart will not receive oxygen from the foods, increasing the risk of a heart attack, stroke, and similar heart and cardiovascular diseases.

Usually, high cholesterol is a result of a poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices. With that in mind, the low cholesterol diet is one of the causes you can control. There are other causes of high cholesterol. The bad news is that high cholesterol has no symptoms. The only way to diagnose is with a blood test.

You should ask your doctor to perform a cholesterol test. Depending on your age, the frequency of the screening and the first test vary. Usually, testing for cholesterol should be done every five years. If the test results are not within the desirable range, your physician will recommend measures to help and tell you how to lower cholesterol.

Difference between good and bad cholesterol

After you turn 20 years old, cholesterol levels should be measured every five years. The screening blood test is called lipid profile. Men over 35 and women over 45 should perform more frequent tests. To understand cholesterol, you need to understand the difference between LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol.

LDL (bad cholesterol)

Low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol is the less desirable cholesterol. LDL contributes to fatty buildups in the arteries. The buildup on the walls of your blood vessels is called “plaque”. As the blood vessels build up plaque, the inside of the vessels narrow.

The narrowing will block blood flow to and from your heart and other organs. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol makes up most of your body’s cholesterol, and high levels of it can cause and increase the risk of a heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.

HDL (good) cholesterol

High-density lipoprotein, or the good cholesterol absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. Think of it as the healthy cholesterol, and having higher levels is better.

A healthy amount of HDL cholesterol from your low cholesterol diet can prevent all of the disease LDL cholesterol causes. That includes heart attack and stroke.

Triglycerides

The blood test called lipid profile will also show the amount of triglycerides in your body. They are fats carried in the blood from the food we eat.

Alcohol, sugar, and excess calories are converted into triglycerides and stored throughout the body. You do not want high levels of triglycerides, as it contribute to high cholesterol.

What do the numbers mean?

Once you perform a lipid profile test, you will get results showing total cholesterol levels, LDL cholesterol levels, and triglycerides levels in your body. These numbers are just a measure, and depending on the results, you should make lifestyle changes.

Total cholesterol level Category
Less than 200mg/dL Desirable
200-239mg/dL Borderline High
240mg/dL or above High

 

LDL Cholesterol Level LDL-Cholesterol Category
Less than 100mg/dL Optimal
100-129mg/dL Near optimal/above optimal
139-159mg/dL Borderline high
160-189mg/dL High
190mg/dL or above Very High

Causes of high cholesterol

When it comes to causes of high cholesterol, there are factors you can control, and factors you cannot control. For example, you cannot control your genetic makeup. However, you can control your lifestyle choices, which is where the low cholesterol diet comes in handy. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the risk factors for high cholesterol.

Poor diet

Cholesterol is found in foods that come from animal sources, including meat, cheese, and egg yolks. Now, that doesn’t mean that you should suddenly go vegetarian and avoid animal sources of food altogether. It just means you should focus on healthy animal sources.

Cholesterol is mostly found in saturated fats, which you consume when you eat deep-fried an processed foods. Saturated fats increase your LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol). Trans fats can also increase your LDL cholesterol levels, and they are also found in fried and processed foods.

With that in mind, your goal is to limit your consumption of foods that contain cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats. That means avoiding commercially baked cookies, crackers, red meat, full-fat dairy products, and similar foods.

Physical activity

Lack of physical activity leads to weight gain. And studies have shown that obesity, or having a body mass index of 30 or higher vastly increases your risk of high cholesterol.

Being overweight raises your LDL cholesterol and lowers your HDL cholesterol. Therefore, to avoid risks of developing high cholesterol, practice regular physical activity. Working out will help you lose weight, and lower the bad cholesterol levels in your blood.

Large waist circumference

This also falls into risks of high cholesterol and causes of high cholesterol. Having a waist circumference of 40 inches (for men) and 35 inches (for women) will vastly increase the risk of developing high cholesterol. Take care of that belly fat, and you’ll be leaner, slimmer, and generally healthier. Not to mention, having a slim waist improves your confidence and self-esteem.

Smoking

This is another one of the risks of high cholesterol you can control. Smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels. Because of that, they are more likely to accumulate fatty deposits. In addition, smoking reduces the levels of good cholesterol in the blood.

Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition that damages the lining of your arteries. But more importantly, having high blood sugar will contribute to higher LDL cholesterol levels and lower HDL cholesterol levels in the blood.

Age and Sex

We are now at the causes of high cholesterol you cannot control. One of them is age and sex. Men have lower levels of HDL cholesterol at puberty than women. As you age, the levels of cholesterol in your blood changes. Therefore, before the age of 55, women have lower LDL cholesterol levels than men. However, after 55 years, women tend to have higher bad cholesterol levels than men.

Heredity

Last, but not least, the inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolemia can cause high LDL cholesterol. High cholesterol can run in families, and there is nothing you can do about it. The only way to prevent is to stick to healthy lifestyle choices, including regular exercise and following a low cholesterol diet. This way, you can prevent your genes from raising your cholesterol levels to severe levels. The familial hypercholesterolemia begins at birth, and it can cause heart attack at an early age.

Treatment for High Cholesterol

There are two types of treatment for high cholesterol. The one is the therapeutic lifestyle changes, or shortly (TLC) that includes a low cholesterol diet, changes to your physical activity, and weight management. And then there is the drug treatment.

The TLC treatment includes changing to a low cholesterol diet, one that is low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. The diet focuses on lowering your LDL cholesterol, improving your fiber consumption, and increasing your HDL cholesterol. Weight management is also important, as being overweight is a risk factor.

There is no clear “healthy weight”, as it all depends on the person. Factors like age, height, and lifestyle also contribute to what classifies as “healthy weight”. Last, but not least, the TLC treatment includes increase of physical activity. Regular physical activity can raise HDL and lower LDL cholesterol.

Risk categories

Low cholesterol diet can help anyone with high cholesterol. However, depending on the category you fall into, the TLC treatment might not be enough. Bear in mind, you cannot get from 200mg/dL to less than 100 in just few months. That takes time and effort. You need to move from one risk category to the next one, gradually lowering your cholesterol levels.

  • Category I – your goal is to get LDL lower than 100mg/dL. You need to begin the low cholesterol diet along with physical activity. If your LDL is 130mg/dL after three months of the TLC treatment, you might also need to start a drug treatment
  • Category II – your goal is to get LDL under 130mg/dL, and you begin the TLC treatment. If your LDL is above 160mg/dL after three months of treatment, you need to include drug treatment
  • Category III – your goal is to get LDL under 160mg/dL, and you begin with the TLC treatment. After three months, the LDL is not under 160mg/dL, and you are forced to include drug treatment
  • Category IV – your goal is to get the LDL levels under 190mg/dL. Being that you are in the group with the highest risk of heart attack, the results of the TLC treatment should be checked after three months. If the LDL is still above 190mg/dL, you will need to include drug treatment. If the results are below 190 and close to the 160 range, continue the diet until you get to Category.

The Low Cholesterol Diet

One in three Americans have high cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Making smart choices, and swapping some unhealthy foods with healthy can help you keep the cholesterol levels under control. Just following the low cholesterol diet can help you lower cholesterol by as much as 15%. And in most cases, that is enough to get from a high risk group of heart disease, to an optimal group. With that in mind, here are the foods you should consume on a regular basis.

Oats

Oats

One of the simplest ways for how to lower cholesterol is changing your morning habits. Switch from an unhealthy breakfast, to a healthy breakfast. You want a breakfast that contains two servings of oats.

By switching to oats for breakfast you can reduce LDL cholesterol by 5% in a month and a half. Oats contain beta-glucan, a substance that absorbs LDL. Add some fruits to your oats and nuts for even more fiber and healthy nutrients.

Quinoa seeds

Oatmeal is one option for breakfast. Another healthy option is quinoa seeds. Mix between these two for a healthy breakfast on a daily basis. Quinoa flakes cook faster than regular quinoa seeds, and you do not lose any of the nutritional value. Add some cinnamon to your quinoa porridge for some fat burning and weight loss properties.

Red Wine

If there is ever an excuse to drink red wine, that is during a low cholesterol diet. Scientists have found out that red grapes, which are the basis for red wine, can lower cholesterol levels by a significant amount. Now, that doesn’t mean you should dive into the bottle and drink one bottle per day. Stick to a glass of red wine per day for healthy benefits out of the red wine.

Salmon

Any fatty fish will do the trick, but salmon is the richest one in omega-3 fatty acids. We know omega-3 are health wonders of the world and that they prevent heart disease, lower cholesterol, and offer many health benefits. Replace unhealthy saturated fats with omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, sardines, herring, and other fatty fish, and you can lower your cholesterol by 5%.

Nuts

We talked about healthy breakfast, and how nuts make it even more nutritional. Nuts are a great snack you can enjoy between breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and dinner. They are also packed with omega-3 fatty acids.

In addition, most nuts also come with a healthy dose of protein, which helps your weight loss properties. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, and macadamia nuts are the best options. Just bear in mind, while they are healthy, they are also high in calories. Therefore, make sure your portion is 1.5oz at most.

Green tea

green tea

Green tea has become popular because of its cancer-fighting antioxidants, as well as its weight loss properties. But you can add another item on the menu, and that is lowering cholesterol.

If you want to know how to lower cholesterol, just drink a cup or two of green tea per day. Black tea can also help, but it is high in caffeine. If you prefer black tea, stick to just one cup per day.

Beans

Beans, or the vegetarian source of protein, are among the healthiest foods on the market. According to some studies, just half a cup of beans added to soups can lower your LDL cholesterol by up to 8%.

Beans are extremely high in fiber, a compound that can slow the rate and amount of absorption of cholesterol in certain foods. Black beans are the best option, but you can also try lima beans, kidney beans, or pinto beans.

Dark Chocolate

Chocolate gets a bad rep in terms of healthy foods. But that is because people think of regular chocolate. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, contains a healthy dose of antioxidants and helps you increase your HDL levels by as much as 20% over a period of three months.

Garlic

Known as the anti-vampire foods, garlic helps you lower your cholesterol levels by an enormous amount. Garlic can also prevent blood clots, reduce blood pressure, and protect against various cardiovascular diseases. That makes garlic one of the best foods for heart conditions. Consume just one to two fresh cloves per day, and you’ll notice your cholesterol is rapidly falling down.

Olive oil

Sometimes, even common cooking ingredients can go a long way. Switching from your regular vegetable oil to an olive oil for cooking can vastly improve your health. Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil lowers your LDL cholesterol and helps you shed pounds out of your belly. Olive oil is one of the best foods for reducing belly fat, and we talked previously how that helps with cholesterol management.

Spinach

Spinach, as well as other dark leafy greens, contains lutein, a pigment that can help with macular degeneration and lower cholesterol. Baby spinach is even better option if you want to protect yourself against heart attacks. Add spinach to any salad, or pop it in the microwave for a quick side dish. And of course, you can always add it to a smoothie, preferably green smoothie.

Avocado

avocado

As we will talk later on, not all fats are equal. Avocado, similar as nuts, is rich in healthy fats. Avocado can help you increase your HDL levels, and in the same time, lower your LDL cholesterol.

Even more important, avocado contains ingredients that help reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food. Just a word of caution, avocado is high in calories, so you should consume it in moderation.

Parsnip

A root vegetable closely related to carrots and parsley, parsnip has a nutty and sweet flavor. Parsnips contain 60% more fiber than carrot, making it great for how to lower cholesterol. Fiber keeps you full longer, and parsnips also pack nutrients like potassium, vitamin C and K, and folate.

Parsnips are best when cooked, or you can roast them to boost the natural sweetness. Most common way to use parsnips is by chopping an adding to soups.

Almond butter

We said previously that almonds are great for lowering cholesterol levels. Products made of almonds fall into that category as well.

Almond butter is one of the best alternatives to regular butter and margarine, as it is rich in monounsaturated fats, or the healthy fats. Almond butter also contains magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium. You can add it to oatmeal, or smoothies.

Hemp seeds

With their nutty flavor, hemp seeds contain more protein than any other seeds on the market. They pack about 10g of protein in 3 tablespoons. Hemp seeds are also rich in magnesium, iron, and potassium, minerals that help reduce the risk of heart disease. Sprinkle them over cereals or fruit salads, or add them into your soups and stews.

Other foods to lower cholesterol

The foods we previously mentioned in the low cholesterol diet are great for preventing high cholesterol and heart-related diseases. And they can vastly reduce those risks. But there are also foods that do not contribute as much, yet they are a welcome addition to the diet plan.

Here are some foods that won’t bring drastic results, but will help. And we know every little ounce helps.

  • Bread made with oat flour or oat bran
  • Oatcakes
  • Pearl barley
  • Butter beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Edamame beans
  • Red lentils
  • Green lentils
  • Black lentils
  • Soya alternative to milk
  • Soya alternative to yogurt
  • Tofu
  • Unsalted soya nuts
  • Citrus fruits
  • Sweet potato
  • Mango

The cholesterol myth foods

There are foods that usually get a bad reputation, at least when cholesterol is the topic. For example, eggs have been one of the foods that many say you should limit because of its high cholesterol amount. But that only applies to egg yolks.

Egg whites, on the other hand, are very high in protein. In addition, eggs are low in saturated fats. Other foods that you can and should consume, despite the cholesterol myths include seafood such as prawns, kidneys, and liver.

Tips for cutting bad cholesterol

Now that we know what are the foods that lower cholesterol, and how to lower cholesterol, let’s talk about tips to maximize the benefits of the low cholesterol diet. The easiest way to reduce your cholesterol levels is to visualize every plate, and load up on foods that are low in unhealthy fats. The US Department of Agriculture recommends that half of your plate is filled with colorful vegetables and fruits, one quarter with whole grains, and the remaining with lean protein.

With that in mind, here are some other tips for following a low cholesterol diet.

  • Cook by steaming, broiling, and poaching instead of frying. When you absolutely must fry your food, try pan or stir frying to cut back on fat
  • Substitute vegetable and unhealthy oils with healthy oils like olive and coconut oil for cooking
  • Substitute vegetable broth for butter in recipes
  • Use low-fat or non-fat yogurt in creamy dishes instead of sour cream
  • Use fruit pulp instead of fat or oil in baking goods

The good and bad fats

What you need to understand that in the same way there is good and bad cholesterol, there are good and bad fats. When you mention the word fat, people panic and freak out instantly. But the reality is that not all fats are created equal.

The best way for how to lower cholesterol is to understand where cholesterol comes from. For starters, fat that raises cholesterol come from animal products and processed goods. That means eliminate processed foods, and you will be off to a great start.

But more importantly, you need to understand the difference between good and bad fat. According to the American Heart Association, you should limit your fat intake on a daily basis by 25 to 35 percent of the calories you consume. And there are different types of dietary fat.

Saturated fats are the ones you need to pay attention to. They are naturally solid at room temperature, and they come from cholesterol rich animal fats like butter, cheese, palm oil, and processed red meats.

Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been modified chemically to be solid at room temperature. They are found in products that have long shelf lives, especially commercially prepared baked goods. You should limit them as well, as trans fats are even more harmful than saturated fats.

The good fats are known as unsaturated fats, and they include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These good fats can be found in nut oils, nuts, olive oil, canola oil, fatty fish, and so on. Omega-3 fatty acids fall into the category of unsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids make the blood vessels more slippery, preventing dangerous plaque.

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