You can lower your cholesterol through a combination of the right food, exercise and if necessary the right medications. In the previous section we learnt about some of the facts about cholesterol. But how do you lower your cholesterol? The National Institute of Health has a useful leaflet about doing this that you can read here. The following recommendations are based on this as well as other scientific evidence.
Food components that raise your cholesterol
The 3 food items that make your LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) rise are:
- Saturated fat – A type of fat that is found in food from animal products.
- Trans fat – found in food made from hydrogenated oils and fats (french fries, margarine etc).
- Cholesterol- this is only from animal products as cholesterol is not present in food from plants.
How to lower your cholesterol
To lower your cholesterol, you need to focus on combining these 3 things:
1) Change your food:
A) Reduce saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol in your diet.
You can do this by going on a low fat, high vegetable diet which is low in carbohydrates. You can read more about such a diet by clicking here.
Foods that are high in saturated fat include beef, lamb, cheese, mayonnaise, butter, certain oils like coconut oil etc. If you are finding it difficult to stop or reduce these food items, try substituting them instead. For example, use margarine instead of butter, substitute beef with fish or chicken, and cook with olive oil or sunflower oil instead of coconut oil.
B) Add plant sterols and stanols:
Sterols and stanols are substances present in plants. Because they have a similar structure to cholesterol, plant stanols and sterols reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the gut. As a result, more cholesterol is lost in the faeces. This in turn helps to lower your cholesterol in the blood.
Vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables all contain small amounts of sterols. For example, wheat bran, peanuts, almonds, olive oil, canola oil and Brussels sprouts all contain sterols. According to the British Dietetic Association, only small amounts of sterols and stanols are present in plants. As a result, it is not possible to get enough stanols /sterols to lower cholesterol just from the food we eat.
However, to get large enough amounts of sterols in your diet you may need to consider food and drink with added sterols such as mini yogurt drinks, fat spreads and yogurts.
Most studies show that eating more than the recommended 3 grams per day of plant stanols/sterols is unlikely to lower cholesterol levels further.
C) Increase soluble fiber
Foods that are high in soluble fiber include oranges, grapefruit, pears, psyllium seeds, kidney beans, lima beans, carrots, broccoli and brussel sprouts. Note that food labels usually only state the total fiber, not the amount of soluble and insoluble fiber. A simple way of increasing the fiber in your diet is having a high fiber breakfast cereal such as wholegrain oats or branflakes. Later in the day add some beans, fruit and vegetables.
2) Physical Activity
Studies have shown that exercise can reduce your LDL cholesterol [R1]. The minimum amount of exercise you need to increase your HDL levels is 900 kcal per week [R2]. This is about 120 minutes of typical aerobic exercise a week. Exercise can increase your HDL and reduce your Triglyceride levels, both effects being beneficial in lowering your risk for having a heart attack or stroke.
3) Weight Management
Losing weight is a key step in lowering your cholesterol. A low-carb, low-fat diet is ideal to achieve both weight loss and a better lipid profile. You can learn more about how to lose weight on this website: click here to get started!.
How much can I lower my cholesterol?
The TLC guide from the National Institute of Health lists how much you can lower your LDL cholesterol with each of the above components:
You can see that lifestyle measures alone can substantially reduce your cholesterol. If you need to bring it down further, you will need to see your doctor to find out if you need to start a cholesterol tablet.