Despite several decades in the spot light of medical and media concern, cholesterol remains one of the most important aspects of the factors that influence our health. Cholesterol is not necessarily harmful, as is the general perception. There are two kinds of cholesterol, one which is contained in the food and the other which is essential for the body’s metabolism.
What is Cholesterol?
Each day, the liver manufactures up to 1g of blood cholesterol, the fat like, waxy material that is a component of all cells. This is essential to create some hormones, maintain the cell health, helps to make Vitamin D and bile acids which aid digestion. When our bodies make more cholesterol than what we really need, the excess starts circulating in the blood stream.
As we all know, blood is mostly composed of water which does not blend with fat and so cholesterol is transported around the body attached to lipo proteins. There are two types of lipo proteins – low density lipo proteins (LDL) and high density lipo proteins (HDL). A high level of LDL is what is worrisome, and what the doctors mean when they say you have high cholesterol. LDL is responsible for carrying about three quarters of the cholesterol in blood, and high levels of this lipo protein puts you in the risks related to heart attack and stroke.
High cholesterol has roots in genetic makeup , however, poor diet and obesity are also significant contributors. And while there is nothing that can be done about heredity, you could control the diet and keep your weight in check to keep your cholesterol levels low.
In this article we discuss the foods which you should and should not include in your diet to keep the cholesterol levels low.
Foods that you should avoid
Certain foods have cholesterol in them, try and avoid these.
- Fats – Saturated fats or fats which are solid at room temperature are not good for the heart as these tend to stick to the cell walls and are difficult for the body to break down. Butter, clarified butter or ‘ghee’, coconut oil and hydrogenated oils or ‘vanaspatis’ as they are commonly known in India are highly avoidable. Try and replace these with regular oils or use cooking methods which reduce consumption of the saturated fats.
- All animal foods contain cholesterol. The reason is simple and logical; cholesterol is present in the cells for production of hormones, and when you consume foods of animal origin, it finds way in your system too. So, right from milk, eggs, butter and cheese to liver, fish, red meat and poultry all contain different levels of cholesterol. As per medical research, foods which rank the highest in cholesterol content are the brain and liver of animals. In the doubtful category and subject to much discussion, are the eggs (especially the yolks). Some studies suggest that yolks should best be avoided or eaten sparingly, whereas others are of the opinion that having as many as 10 eggs per week, should not be a cause of worry. I would personally recommend, when in doubt, try and stick to the conservative view! It is a good idea to replace red meat with leaner cuts of poultry and fish. Fish is found to contain Omega 3, an essential fatty acid which actually responsible for doing a lot of good things for the body. Try and avoid processed foods such as salamis, hams, bacon etc. Avoid full fat dairy products such as full cream milk, hard cheese, butter and cream.
- Simple carbohydrates such as sugar, sugary syrup, honey etc. add calories to the food and while are essential , should be taken in moderate quantities. Foods items rich in sugars, along with other Trans fats such as pastries, cakes, chocolates and biscuits should also be avoided.
Do I hear you asking, so what is it that you should eat?
Foods that you should eat
- Not all fats are bad. While saturated fats are surely avoidable, fats which solidify when refrigerated, but are liquid at room temperature or mono un saturated fats( common examples – Olive oil, canola and peanut oil) and poly unsaturated fats – fats which remain liquid even at cold temperatures (common examples - rice bran, safflower, sunflower, mustard and soya bean) could be used. Both of these fats are known to reduce the cholesterol level, however take care to not over use these as well. The reason is, oils have a high calorific value and if consumed liberally, these could slowly lead to weight gain. Weight gain pushes up your chances of having a cholesterol problem. A few tips to use the good fats judiciously:
- Replace butter/ghee with spreads having mono/poly unsaturated oils.
- Get into the habit of reading labels and reduce consumption of food items containing hydrogenated fats and Trans fats.
- Try and use good quality non stick cook wear and spray oil which just about coats the cooking surface instead of pouring it to reduce the consumption.
- Not for nothing went the old adage” An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. While animal products should be consumed keeping in mind the fat content, you could consume food items rich in dietary fiber – fruits and vegetables which do not have cholesterol. Dietary fiber works by sweeping the cholesterol out of the body before it reaches the blood stream. Stock up on fruits such as oranges, apples, pears, bananas, avocados, olives and dried fruits such as walnuts, figs, apricots, pistachios, almonds and prunes. Walnuts and pistachios are especially considered effective antidotes to high cholesterol. Vegetables such as sweet corn, onions, different varieties of beans, peas, green leafy vegetables, the gourd family etc. A wonder vegetable known for its cholesterol lowering capability is the garlic. Studies suggest that compounds present in the humble garlic help suppress cholesterol production in the liver. Medics recommend that on an average, you should consume 5 portions( 1 portion is almost a closed fist size) of fruits and vegetables in a day.
- Other foods rich in dietary fiber apart from the fruits and vegetables are grains such as oats ( considered a must to include in your diet, if you have high cholesterol), whole grains such as brown rice, unpolished pulses, whole wheat, couscous etc. Avoid refined versions of grains such as flour. Stock up on seeds such as safflower, flax and sunflower. You could sprinkle these on your morning cereal or have it as a part of your multi-grain bread. Another method of adding more fiber to your diet is to switch from the usual white bread to a multi-grain bread and brown bread.
The good news about high levels of cholesterol , is that if you monitor your diet and weight, you could avoid a potentially dangerous health disaster. It is however, highly recommended that you undertake any major changes to your diet and/or exercise under medical supervision.