Your heart is a pretty essential part of your body. Looking after it is important. One of the ways you can do this is by monitoring your cholesterol levels.
Our doctors can help with that one, but before we start, we need to deal with the myth that all cholesterol is bad. It’s actually a little more complicated than that. Cholesterol comes in two forms:
- Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL) – This is the stuff that clogs up your arteries and puts you at risk of heart disease, stroke and coronary artery disease
- High-density Lipoprotein (HDL) – Sends LDL to the liver, where it’s processed out of your body before it can attach itself to artery walls
Rather than cutting out cholesterol completely, you need to make sure you get more HDL cholesterol than LDL. That’s why our doctors have found nine foods you can eat to balance the ‘bad’ cholesterol and look after your heart.
1. Olive Oil
Part of the famously healthy Mediterranean diet, olive oil has long been recognised as good for your heart.
Much like cholesterol, fat can be divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Without getting too technical, ‘bad’ saturated fat increases your cholesterol, while ‘good’ unsaturated fat doesn’t.
Of these, monounsaturated fat is considered the healthiest. Out of all the cooking oils you can choose from at the supermarket, olive oil has the highest level of monounsaturated fat.
You can use olive oil for sauteing, grilling and baking, or as a salad dressing. Don’t go crazy though, as despite its heart health advantages, it’s still high in calories.
2. Whole Grains
Whole grains, such as brown rice, brown bread and cereals, are very high in fibre.
Fibre increases your body’s levels of good cholesterol by reducing the amount of bile absorbed into the intestines. When this happens, bile has no reason to stick around, so it leaves your body along with all your food waste.
That’s all very nice, but how does it affect cholesterol?
Well, your body needs bile to digest the fat in your diet, so your liver gets to work making more. What does it need to do this? If you guessed LDL cholesterol, have ten points! Taking it out of your bloodstream means it’s not going to hang around in your arteries.
3. Oily Fish
Ah, oily fish. You’ll find it on most lists of foods that are good for you and this is no exception.
It contains omega-3, which has two key benefits. The first is it improves brain function. The second is it’s superb for heart health.
Studies have shown omega-3 can keep blood pressure and heart rate in check, reduce your risk of heart attacks, lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. Our bodies can’t make omega-3 either, so we need to get it from our diet.
Nuts are high in unsaturated fat and fibre, which we’ve already established are great for bringing your cholesterol down.
Walnuts, almonds and pistachios are regarded as the best options. Walnuts even contain omega-3 too, so they’re doubly good at lowering cholesterol.
Plain varieties are, of course, the best. We shouldn’t really have to say this, but anything salted, candied or covered in artificial flavouring will spoil any health benefits.
5. Beans and Pulses
A 2016 Canadian study found that a daily serving of pulses can cut LDL cholesterol by 5%.
They also keep you fuller for longer, so you’re less likely to reach for any unhealthy, fatty snacks that will send your cholesterol soaring again.
Unfortunately, the research also claimed that only 13% of the population was hitting this daily requirement.
Whether you like yours smashed on toast or turned into guacamole, avocados are one of the best ways to manage your cholesterol balance.
They’re high in monounsaturated fats, so they’ll bring your LDL cholesterol down and boost your HDL cholesterol at the same time.
7. Fruit and Vegetables
We’re sure you’re getting your five-a-day already, so you should already be feeling the heart healthy benefits of fruit and veg. Just in case, here’s what they’re doing for your cholesterol levels.
Many fruits and vegetables, such as berries, apples and Brussel sprouts, are high in fibre. We already know this is good for your cholesterol levels.
They also contain plant sterols, which stop the body from absorbing cholesterol. If it can’t be absorbed, it simply leaves the body. Problem solved!
8. Apple Cider Vinegar
It’s not something you’d necessarily find in your kitchen cupboards, but apple cider vinegar could be the cholesterol-busting condiment you’ve been waiting for.
For many years, it was seen as a ‘traditional’ remedy for a variety of health problems, but there was little medical data to back this up. That’s why in 2016, the BBC ran a study for their science show Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, to see if it really worked.
While most of the claims about apple cider vinegar (such as the idea it could promote weight loss) were found to be false, one of them turned out to be true.
The study found that drinking two tablespoons of diluted apple cider vinegar twice a day reduced overall cholesterol levels by 13%.
Cheese? The famously high-fat dairy product? Lowering cholesterol?
It sounds hard to believe, but in 2016, researchers at the University of Copenhagen found something pretty surprising . They gave one group of people 80g of regular cheese and another 80g of a low-fat equivalent. A third group ate no cheese at all.
You’d expect a food that’s high in saturated fat to raise cholesterol. It did, but not in the way you might expect. None of the three groups saw an increase in LDL, but the people who ate the high-fat cheese had higher levels of HDL.
In practice, this means their body was better prepared to get rid of ‘bad’ cholesterol. While cheese doesn’t lower cholesterol in the way other foods on this list do, it may have the power to improve the ratio of HDL to LDL.