Before you form a pre-conceived notion about “cholesterol”, remember that there is good and bad cholesterol. In normal cases, cholesterol is important for the body, in normal amounts. However, if the same goes too high in concentrations, then it could pose as a threat for you- it sometimes causes death too.
Did you know?
High cholesterol foods are to be blamed for the rise in cholesterol in the body. And did you know that there is cholesterol in each cell of the body too? Cholesterol has to be there in our bodies, because it helps with digestion. It also helps with hormone production, vitamin D generation and more. The body manufactures it, but there are high cholesterol foods when eaten in small amounts which can contribute to cholesterol in the body too.
How does it look like?
It is a waxy substance, and there are two types of cholesterol found-
- LDL (low-density lipoproteins) which is bad cholesterol
- HDL (high-density lipoproteins) which is good cholesterol
Facts you need to know
- Cholesterol is important and essential for the body and produced by the body, however, it is also ingested when sourced from animals and plants too
- Diet and exercise can help normalize the levels of cholesterol in the body. Basically, your lifestyle also can influence the cholesterol levels in the body
- There are no symptoms of cholesterol as such, say medical experts
- Lipid lowering drugs are only to be taken when doctors advise. This means, if after quitting high cholesterol foods, exercising well and even changing your lifestyle habits do not show the lowering of cholesterol, then and only then would the doctor prescribe medications for the same.
Now that you have an overview of what is cholesterol and the types of the same, and also know that there are certain high cholesterol foods too, let’s take a look at the four primary functions of cholesterol and what causes the cholesterol to shoot up in our bodies as well.
The four primary functions of cholesterol
As mentioned, HDL or good cholesterol is important for the body. And there are four main reasons for the same. They are-
- It helps build the cell wall structure in the body
- It helps build digestive bile in the intestines of the body
- It helps the body produce a very important vitamin- vitamin D
- It helps the body with hormonal building too.
What causes high cholesterol
High cholesterol is a risk for sure on high accounts and scales, especially for the cardiovascular system. It is one of the reasons why we have heart strokes and attacks, which is because cholesterol was left untreated. Doctors say, one has to keep the lipid levels in the body in check or else the cardiovascular system is at risk. When cholesterol is left unchecked and allowed to build up, it narrows down the arteries. This is called atherosclerosis- these are plaques that do not allow the flow of blood to happen normally as it should. And this is why, it is important to check what you eat- we shall talk about high cholesterol foods in this article.
Doctors want us to bring down the fat intake in our diets- plant and animal fats too. This helps manage the levels of cholesterol in the body and keeps the body safe from risk too. This means, there are high cholesterol foods such as cheese and animal meat, saturated fats from dairy products, baked items, chocolates, fried food and fries, and even processed foods, trans fats etc that can contribute to the growth of LDL or the bad cholesterol in the body, which should be avoided or brought down big time.
Even genes play an important role in determining cholesterol levels in the body. Some of the LDL levels found in patients are pretty high, even though their diets do not contain high cholesterol foods, and even though they workout and have a healthy lifestyle; blame it on the genes, say doctors. This is an inherited condition called hypercholesterolemia. But why does this happen?
- It could be because of diabetes
- It could be because of disorders and diseases of the kidney or the liver
- It could be because of polycystic ovary syndrome
- It could happen to pregnant women when the female hormones are on the rise
- It could be because of a underactive thyroid gland
- It could be because of certain medications which cause LDL to rise- steroids and anabolic medicines et al!
So here were some of the reasons why someone who does not have high cholesterol foods, could still be prone to high cholesterol, and the other causes that contribute to the same as well. Now let’s take a look at what experts have to say about foods that cause or control cholesterol, shall we?
Experts on the cholesterol amounts in foods
A report from Harvard Health has identified “11 cholesterol lowering foods” that actively decrease cholesterol levels:
- Barley and whole grains
- Eggplant and okra
- Vegetable oil (canola, sunflower)
- Fruits (mainly apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus)
- Soy and soy-based foods
- Fatty fish (particularly salmon, tuna, and sardines)
- Foods rich in fiber
Adding these into a balanced diet can help keep cholesterol in check. The same report also lists foods that are bad for cholesterol levels, including:
- Red meat
- Full-fat dairy
- Hydrogenated oils
- Baked goods
Are there any symptoms?
One again, we would like to inform you that high cholesterol levels do not have any symptoms as such to show. But it is risky if undetected, which is why, you should undergo routine screenings and blood testing. Speaking to your family doctor for the same will help. They would advise certain tests to do, where the high levels of cholesterol can be detected and save you from pending cardiovascular issues.
How to treat and prevent high cholesterol?
Apart from lowering down the consumption on high cholesterol foods, one should do the following-
- Eat healthy as prescribed by your doctor
- Regular exercises are a must
- STOP SMOKING and cut down on alcohol and do not do recreational drugs, and
- Maintain a healthy weight
Talking about diets, we shall now discuss what foods to have that will help bring down the levels of cholesterol in the body
Plants and veggies
Plants and veggies would not have cholesterol in them and have low levels of saturated fats. Hence, you can opt for leafy greens and plant based foods, which are not high cholesterol foods and safe to consume. Barley, oats and cereals are best to have, veggies fresh and nice, soya and beans, porridge, oat bran, oat bread, baked beans, black beans, chickpeas, mung beans, split peas, red and green lentils, okra, citrus, turnip and mangoes, potatoes and aubergine too, are not high cholesterol foods; so you can have them. And instead of having whole milk, have soya milk. If you do not like curd and yogurt, you can have soya curd, tofu and soya chunks to bring down the levels of cholesterol in the body, say doctors. Finally, if you like dry fruits, munching on pistachios and almonds, cashews and pecans and even seeds can help bring down cholesterol levels in the body.
If you want to know more names of high cholesterol foods to avoid, here we talk about them below! Please continue reading!
Foods that you should limit;
- Clarified butters
- Hard margarines
- Fats and lards from animal sources, such as goose fat
- Pork and its products
- Cheese made from full fat
- Cream from full fat
- Yogurt from full fat
- Palm oils
- Coconut oil and creams
- Milk chocolates and puddings
- Toffees and cakes
- Pies and pastries
- Sugary biscuits
- Processed foods- animal and plant sourced, should be brought down or completely avoided since they have high cholesterol levels in them.
Let’s go into the details on how to lower cholesterol, by avoiding foods named below that can bring down the levels of LDL in the body.
Cut down on eating organs
Liver is an organ, which is rich in iron and a healthy dish for some, but can add up to the levels of cholesterol in the body. This is because, liver is a primary source of cholesterol in the body for all mammals, and when we eat liver, we are bringing into the body more of the waxy substance. This is not flushed out soon and hence stored. Experts at the American Heart Association say “ The highest concentrated levels of cholesterol in animals are found in organ meat”.
Munch less on muffins
Sigh, muffins too! Well most love them as a snack in India, but this food item can be hazardous. And it also depends on how the muffin is made which determines if it contributes to LDL in the body or not, say experts. Low bran muffins which are made from whole wheat flour would be good to consume, so all hope is not lost. However, if you have muffins made from whole milk, fats and creams and egg yolks, with chocolate or candies in them, it can make the LDL levels in the body rise; which is not good at all.
Margarines can cause LDL levels to rise
Back in the 90s, butter was replaced on most dining tables by margarine, thinking it was a healthy option to have. However, in the new age, studies have shown the reverse. Hard margarine can increase the levels of LDL in the body. A published report in the Harvard School of Public Health study on fats and cholesterol says “Since margarine was made from unsaturated vegetable oils, most people assumed it would be better for long-term health than butter, which was known to contain a lot of cholesterol and saturated fat. That assumption turned out to be wrong”.
Cut down on popcorn
If your eyes popped out at this suggestion on how to lower cholesterol by reducing the popcorn intake, we understand! This is a snack which can be equally good and bad for the body, and it depends on how you prepare the same. If the popcorn is garnished with oils and butters and salts, it is not a healthy snacking option. The garnishing makes the LDL levels in the body to rise. But if popcorn is devoid of butter, oils and salts, it will bring down the LDL levels in the body.
Cut down on eating hamburgers
A quick fast food option when you are on the run or when you do not want to eat something heavy- hamburgers are bad for you, because it makes the LDL levels rise. Experts say “Big Mac has 85 mg of cholesterol and a Classic Double with everything from Wendy’s is loaded with 175 mg of cholesterol”.
Do you love fried chicken- cut down on that too!
Crunchy, golden and deep fried, and such a delight to have, fried chicken is heaven. But doctors warn us against the same, saying this very popular dish can be the reason why your LDL levels are so high. The deep fried chicken has a lot of cholesterol in it than a hamburger!
Cut down on french fries
You have to cut down on french fries, because it has hydrogenated oils in it used for cooking the same. Experts say, these are oils that make the food stable and does not allow the foods to spoil. When we consume such foods, the hydrogenated oils in the body converts the oils into solids. This makes it easy to transport within the body. And this is what makes it a risk factor for the overall health too. Even though you can reheat such foods, such oils are why the LDL levels in the body increase, experts at esteemed Harvard School of Public Health study on fats and cholesterol say!
Cut down on ice cream
A scoop of goodness, which we so love, if you want to really learn on how to lower cholesterol, you have to cut down on ice cream.
No more egg yolks
Egg yolks have high concentrations of cholesterol in them, and can be reason enough for the LDL levels to rise in the body. If you want to have your eggs for breakfast, choose only the whites as much as possible. And if you want to still have the yolks; moderation is the key!
Cut down on red meats
Examples of red meats are pork, lamb, beef and mutton, which should be cut down on consumption as much as possible, since they have saturated fats in them. If you overeat such meats, chances are the LDL levels in the body would rise, and you could have heart diseases too, say experts at American Heart Association.
While these were some of the favorite foods that we now know should be avoided or cut down to a large level should we want to know how to lower cholesterol, let’s now take a look on a plan which can help us understand how to eat and live right!
Naturally lowering the LDL in the body
Now that you know that there are certain foods that increase cholesterol and certain foods that lower cholesterol, here is a plan to naturally lower cholesterol levels in the body!
Beans, whole grains, fruits and veggies
We need to focus on these four to make our diets wholesome and healthy. We have to stop having hyper-processed foods, chips, salty snacks and french fries, even colas and aerated drinks too. Meats should be lean, veggies and fruits should be organic and fresh. Fiber rich veggies and fruits should be on the plate more, which helps being down the LDL levels in the body. Focus on consuming pinto beans, black and red beans, lentils, yams, oats, berries and barley. Have plenty of dark fruits that are rich sources of vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants too.
Know your fats
When having your meals planned, you should know the kind of fats that you are including in them. This will help decrease the LDL levels in the body. Some of the fats that are not good are-
- Saturated fats- They cause a lot of damages to the heart. Some of them are red meats and butter, oils from coconut and palm, dairy products- whole milk, cream and cheese.
- Trans fats- If you happen to see the label mentioning partially hydrogenated fats in the list of ingredients, kindly step away from it. This is because the product has trans fats in it, which only contributes to increasing LDL levels in the body.
- Dietary cholesterol- Skip the yolks of an egg, organs of animals and red meats, and even shellfish! Instead, opt for omega 3s found in fish, which keeps the heart safe from diseases and disorders, say experts. Sardines and salmon, mackerel and trout or even herring fish are the best to have to increase HDL and decrease LDL levels in the body.
- Do not overdo the omega 3s- Even though omega 3s are good for the body, overdoing them is not advised. This is why you must talk to an expert nutritionist to know how much of the omega 3s you can consume in a day. Overdoing the same would mean adding more calories to the body and heavy consumption too, and this would lead to weight gain which you do not want. Weight gain on high counts can also lead to the rise of LDL levels in the body, so know from an expert how much of the good fats too you can consume for your body type and lifestyle.
- Check your weight- Do this weekly and keep a tab on it, so that you do not go overboard with the diet plan or underdo the same. If you have excess weight, you must exercise, do yoga and breathe deep everyday. If left unchecked, being overweight can make your body an open field for disorders and diseases such as heart attacks, heart strokes, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and dementia, gout and cancers too, apart from making cholesterol levels hit the roof!
- More plant proteins- Eating more of plant proteins would help bring down the levels of LDL in the body. Some of the excellent sources for the same are beans and lentils of all types, which do not raise the LDL levels, rather they bring it down and increase the HDL levels in the body. They also help bring down sugar spikes in the bloodstream and manage insulin levels too. Soybeans are a good source of protein as well, so is soymilk, which is unsweetened. And you can even have tofu.
Here is a recipe we found for healthy snacking, which is an awesome and a delicious meal to make at home and to lower cholesterol levels too. Print this out!
Couscous & Cherry Tomatoes
Here, from Chef Anthony, is a simple and savory recipe for whole-wheat couscous. Enjoy it for lunch, as a side dish, or as a hearty snack any time of day
- 1/2 red onion chopped
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano dried
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 cup couscous (whole wheat)
- Lightly mist a medium nonstick saucepan with canola oil spray and pre-heat over medium-high heat.
- Add onions to pan and saute until softened, about 2 minutes.
- Add tomatoes, garlic, oregano, black pepper, and water to pan, and bring to a boil.
- Lower heat and simmer until tomatoes begin to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place couscous in medium mixing bowl.
- Remove tomato mixture from heat and immediately pour over couscous. Cover and let it stand for 5 to 8 minutes, until couscous is tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir with fork to fluff before serving.
We thus hope, this mini guide gave an insight to what cholesterol is, what causes it, how it can be prevented, and the ways on how to lower your cholesterol through food and lifestyle habit changes.
Disclaimer: The information given here is from various research and studies, and experts worldwide. Please consult your doctor on cholesterol issues for your individual needs. His or her words would take precedence over what is written here and elsewhere online.