Most of us are aware of cholesterol and understand its relationship to heart health. However, as with everything in life, it’s all about balance between good and bad.
There are two types of cholesterol – HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol’ and LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.
This National Cholesterol Month Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer explains the highs and lows of good and bad cholesterol.
Essentially there are two types of cholesterol: high density lipoprotein (HDL, known as good cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, also known as bad cholesterol).
The HDL transport cholesterol out of the arteries, where too much can cause blockages, and takes it back to the liver for recycling. The LDLs however deposit cholesterol into the arteries. Therefore, it makes absolute sense that we need higher levels of HDLs and lower levels of LDLs. The good news is that these readings can be highly influenced by the food we eat.
Raising the good with berry fruits
Berry fruits are rich in vitamin C which not only drives down HDLs but protects the artery walls against oxidative damage. This can happen if there’s too much fat circulating in the blood and the fats become damaged.
Therefore, berries are your friends in this respect so enjoy them as much as possible. Why not add them to your morning cereal or porridge, eat them on the run with some natural yoghurt or enjoy them just as they are, as a snack.
Get fishy with the oily variety
Salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines are some of the oiliest fish and the most heart protective. Specifically, the long-chain fatty acids in these fish (EPA and DHA) help raise levels of HDLs and reduce LDLs, and the research is very clear about this. Ideally oily fish needs to be eaten two or three times a week for best effects.
Salmon, for example, is very easy to cook quickly in the oven with some lemon juice and dill and can either be eaten with veggies and rice or as tomorrow’s lunch, cold with salad. Tinned sardines on wholegrain toast also make an easy lunch. In fact, tinned sardines provide dual benefits for your heart and bone health so they’re worth adding to your diet.
Snack on some black or red grapes
It’s no secret that red wine (in moderation) can be heart-healthy down to its high antioxidant content which protects the arteries against fat damage. This is because the grapes that are used to make red wine contain special types of antioxidants. It’s actually the grape seeds and skins that contain the most health benefits.
Whilst red wine is the favourite tipple for many people, having too much is certainly not a good idea. However, eating plenty of dark grapes really is a smart plan. Even better, they are one of the most transportable fruits if you need snacks on the run.
Eat fermented foods
Heart disease is not common in Japan which may, in part, be down to their high consumption of fermented soy protein foods, specifically, miso, tempeh and tofu. Soy protein helps balance HDLs and LDLs in the right way and is therefore deemed very heart healthy.
As many of us are thinking about the environment when we make our food choices, eating plant-based protein is a good option. The great news is that these foods are very easy to incorporate into your meal planning: tofu and tempeh can be quickly added to stir fries or as some protein in a smoothie. Miso soup also makes a great low-calorie, low-fat snack, providing a quick energy boost when most needed.
Avoid trans fats
Of all the triggers for raised cholesterol and lipoproteins, eating trans fats primarily found in processed foods and margarines, are the main culprits. They may be listed on the labels as ‘trans-fats’ or ‘hydrogenated fats’ and should be avoided as much as possible.
These fats (generally polyunsaturated fats) are chemically unstable and when processed and heated, are altered to the extent that the body can’t deal with them effectively. Unfortunately, they’re a massive driver for raising cholesterol levels.
The biggest problem foods are generally margarines, biscuits, cakes, cereal bars, and many processed meals so minimise these foods in your diet or avoid altogether.
With a little planning, HDLs and LDLs can go in the right directions to help improve your cholesterol status and support your overall health.
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