Cholesterol and Your Diet
Cholesterol is a wax-like substance that is present in the cell membranes of body tissues and is carried in the blood plasma. It is a sterol; a combination of alcohol and steroid and is also called atherosclerotic plaque. The body requires cholesterol in order to form and sustain cell membranes, help with the production of bile and aid the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins.
Over time, cholesterol builds up on the artery walls and this condition is known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis was thought to be an affliction of the elderly until the 1950's when American pathologists were sent to Korea by the Pentagon to study the bodies of servicemen who died during the conflict. They autopsied around 2000 soldiers and found that approximately 75% had waxy, yellow deposits on the walls of their arteries; a shocking statistic considering the average age of the soldiers was 21. Their findings astonished the scientific community as it highlighted the onset of heart disease in the very young.
LDL and HDL Cholesterol
There are two different types of cholesterol; low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). HDL is commonly known as 'good' cholesterol and LDL is recognised as 'bad' cholesterol. LDL has been markedly linked with heart disease, whereas HDL is thought to reduce the chance of a heart attack. It has been estimated that approximately 25% of Americans are at risk from heart disease due to atherosclerosis, and around 10% have such high levels that doctors are left no choice than to prescribe cholesterol reducing drugs.
Foods that Lower LDL Cholesterol
There are a number of foods which are believed to significantly lower LDL cholesterol. Fiber-rich foods are said to be particularly beneficial and will not only lower 'bad' cholesterol, but also help the bowel to function properly, lowering the risk of colon and bowel cancer. There are many other foods that can help the body fight back against these dangerous deposits.
- Fiber-rich foods, particularly oat bran, barley and wheat bran. They can be eaten as a cereal for breakfast and sprinkled onto other foods. Pearl barley can be added to soups. Apples and pears also have considerable amounts of soluble fiber and should be enjoyed on a daily basis
- Beans and pulses are high in fiber and low-fat. They also contain lecithin, a nutrient that lowers cholesterol. Try to incorporate kidney, fava, borlotti and other dried whole-foods into your diet; there are many different types of lentils and pulses that are delicious in soups and stews
- Avocado contains prolific amounts of monounsaturated fat, which helps to reduce LDL cholesterol and has many other health benefits including anti-cancer properties
- Raw carrots are rich in a fiber called pectin that is renowned for minimizing cholesterol. There are a number of fruits that also contain pectin, including; apples, citrus fruits, strawberries, raspberries and other red or black berries
- Shitake mushrooms are widely used by the Japanese and include a compound called lentinan, which not only lowers cholesterol, but is also thought to be anti-cancerous and may help to boost the immune system
- Garlic is a super food and is well known for its blood-thinning properties. It also contains a substance allicin which is thought to prevent the body retaining LDL cholesterol and research has shown that the equivalent of one clove per day can lessen 'bad' cholesterol by 10-15% in the majority of people
- Root ginger has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries and has numerous health benefits. It can be added to stir-fry's (using healthy sesame oil) and other vegetable dishes
- Nuts are naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids and are known to significantly reduce blood cholesterol; walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and almonds are especially beneficial
- Sesame seeds are rich in phytosterols. These compounds are said to substantially lessen LDL cholesterol. Other foods containing phytosterols include; celery, lettuce, asparagus, spinach, tomatoes, ginger, squash and strawberries
- Safflower, canola, soybean, and olive oil are monounsaturated and are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Research indicates that they can decrease atherosclerotic plaque by up to 15% when eaten regularly
- Salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel contain considerable amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits and are essential for brain and eye function
- Prunes are a wonderful source of antioxidants and fiber, which is known to reduce LDL cholesterol
- Alfalfa sprouts contain a substance called saponin, which is thought to obstruct and inhibit the formation of atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries
If you have high cholesterol or a family tendency towards atherosclerosis it is best to avoid processed and prepared foods, fried food, food containing animal fats or animal products, high-fat dairy products and food containing either saturated fat or trans fats. Research has revealed the key to lowering LDL cholesterol is a healthy, balanced diet that incorporates plenty of soluble fiber and at least five portions of fruit or vegetables a day. This combined with regular cardiovascular exercise should help keep the heart healthy and provide numerous other health benefits as well.