By Tan Sher Lynn
Cholesterol is a lipid (fat) found in the blood and is necessary for various bodily functions including digestion, hormone production and proper functioning of cell membranes. However, high levels of cholesterol have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol can interact with free radicals and become oxidised, taking on a form that begins atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries – the precursor to heart disease. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol, on the other hand, removes harmful cholesterol from cells.
Below are 10 types of food known to have immense cholesterol-lowering ability. Incorporate them in your daily diet for optimal health!
Research shows that a diet high in saturated fats can lead to cardiovascular disease. Minimise saturated fats in your diet (such as butter, red meat and high-fat dairy products) by substituting them with foods that are high in monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats such as olives, avocado and peanuts. When cooking, choose healthy oils like olive oil, canola oil and corn oil instead of coconut oil and palm oil which are high in saturated fats.
There’s plenty of evidence that eating oats helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Oat bran and oatmeal are high in soluble fibre that helps reduce the amount of LDLs in your body and at the same time increases the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol. Add oat bran (hard outer layer of oat grain) to hot cereals and bread or eat whole oatmeal every morning.
Walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachios are found to have the highest amounts of unsaturated fats and lowest amounts of saturated fats. In 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a qualified health claim for peanuts and certain tree nuts including almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts, stating that eating a diet that includes one ounce of nuts daily can reduce the risk of heart disease. They’re also rich in fibre and antioxidants which are good for heart health. Just make sure the nuts you eat aren’t salted or coated with sugar.
Studies show that those who eat an apple daily over four weeks managed to lower the bad cholesterol in their blood by 40 percent. The flavonoids (quercetin) in apples act as a powerful antioxidant that short-circuits the process which leads LDL cholesterol to accumulate in the bloodstream. Apples also contain pectin (the sticky part which is used to make jams and jellies) which helps fight inflammation, a known trigger of premature aging and disease.
Consuming fatty fish is heart healthy due to the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which reduce blood pressure and the risk of developing blood clots. Even for people who have already had heart attacks, consuming fish oil with omega-3 reduces the risk of sudden death. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least 2 servings of fish a week. The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in salmons, herrings, mackerels and sardines.
The top health promoting components in soybeans are isoflavones and soluble fibre. Isoflavones act like human hormone that can lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. Basic soy products include tofu, tempeh, soymilk, soy flour and protein-rich meat alternatives such as soy cutlets and nuggets. The FDA recommends getting at least 25 grams of soy protein each day.
Beans are one of the most fibre-rich foods around. They are especially high in cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre. Soluble fibre forms a gel in water that helps bind acids and cholesterol in the intestinal tract, preventing their reabsorption into the body. Consuming a cup of beans a day—particularly kidney, black, pinto, navy, chickpea and edamame—can lower cholesterol by as much as 10% in six weeks.
# 8 Orange & Grapefruit
Studies reveal that flavanoids found in oranges and grapefruits, known as hesperetin and naringenin, respectively, may be the 2 most profound natural components in combating high cholesterol. Citrus fruits also contain pectin, a type of water-soluble fibre that binds cholesterol in the gut and prevents its absorption into the bloodstream. Do take note that it may not be advisable for some cardiovascular patients, especially those with gastrointestinal complications or ulcers, to consume high levels of citrus fruits. If you belong to this group of patients, check with your doctor beforehand.
#9 Plant Sterols & Stanols
Plant sterols and stanols are substances that occur naturally in small amounts in many grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Due to their powerful cholesterol-lowering properties, manufacturers have started adding them to foods including cooking oils, yogurt, milk, juices, margarine spreads, cereals and granola bars. Sterols and stanols are molecularly similar to cholesterol, as such, when they travel through the digestive tract, they prevent real cholesterol from being absorbed into your bloodstream. Research shows that taking 1-2 grams a day can reduce cholesterol by an amazing 10 to 20 percent.