Cholesterol in food, cholesterol in blood, good fats, bad fats. It’s a bit confusing. We all know we’re supposed to keep our cholesterol at a safe level, so let’s take a look at what that means and the foods that can help.
Cholesterol is a chemical, fat-like, compound and it’s found in your blood and in some foods.
The body makes two types of cholesterol and that’s why we often hear about the “good” and “bad” types. We don’t want the levels of bad cholesterol in our blood to be too high, but similarly, we don’t want our levels of good cholesterol to be too low.
The Heart Foundation describes cholesterol in the blood like this:
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol) is called the “good cholesterol” because it helps to keep cholesterol from building up in your arteries
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol) is called the “bad cholesterol” because it is the main source of cholesterol build-up and blockage in your arteries.
“Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. However, cholesterol also is found in some of the foods you eat,” according to America’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
So the aim of the game is to eat foods that help to keep LDL cholesterol low and increase HDL cholesterol. The thing is, the foods that increase LDL – or the bad – cholesterol aren’t necessarily foods that contain high amounts of cholesterol themselves. When it comes to food, it’s the amount of saturated and trans fats that can be the problem.
“Cholesterol in food has only a small effect on the bad (LDL) cholesterol in your blood,” the Heart Foundation reported.
“Saturated and trans fats in food causes a much greater increase in LDL cholesterol and eating healthy fats helps the cholesterol balance by decreasing LDL and increasing the good (HDL) cholesterol.
“You can include some cholesterol-rich foods as part of a healthy balanced diet low in saturated fat.”
Now we’re talking about dietary cholesterol – or the kind found in food. That’s food like liver and prawns. And yes, eggs contain cholesterol.
The Heart Foundation has this advice when it comes to eggs:
“The dietary cholesterol in eggs has only a small effect on blood LDL cholesterol, so you can enjoy up to six eggs each week as part of a healthy balanced diet.”
Foods to help lower bad cholesterol
Just as we can eat our way to dangerously high levels of bad blood cholesterol, the right diet can help correct the problem.
“Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation,” according to Harvard Medical School.
“Some give you polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL. And some contain plant sterols and stanols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.”
These foods are all good:
- Barley and other whole grains
- Vegetable oils (where you otherwise would use butter)
- Apples, grapes, strawberries and citrus fruits
- Foods fortified with sterols and stanols
- Fatty fish
- Fibre supplements.
Remember, try to avoid foods high in saturated fat and avoid trans fat altogether. That might mean taking a look at your intake of animal products, particularly red meat. House Call Doctor has previously looked at the benefits of making some days of the week meat-free.
As Harvard reminds us, “a diet that is heavy on fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts is good for the body in ways beyond lowering cholesterol”.
“It keeps blood pressure in check. It helps arteries stay flexible and responsive. It’s good for bones and digestive health, for vision and mental health.”