What to eat and what to avoid for high cholesterol

Navigating a healthy diet is key to managing high cholesterol, a condition linked to cardiovascular disease. Certain types of food can actively lower your cholesterol and promote heart health while others can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels and contribute to health risks. Discover more about the impact of diet on your cholesterol as Bloom Financial Services provides insight about the foods to eat and avoid for high cholesterol. Embark on a cholesterol-conscious diet by choosing the right food choices and moderating your intake of less healthy options.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is produced by the liver and is found in your blood. A small amount of cholesterol is needed to build the structure of cell membranes and to assist in the production of hormones, like oestrogen and testosterone. However, too much cholesterol in your blood can pose a health risk. There are two forms of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is known as ‘bad cholesterol’ because it builds up fatty deposits in your arteries, leading to the formation of plaque and increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. HDL, or ‘good cholesterol,’ in contrast, helps remove excess cholesterol from the bloodstream, which reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s important to maintain a healthy, balanced cholesterol level.

Causes of high cholesterol

Cholesterol levels are influenced by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. A family history of high cholesterol, certain medical conditions, like diabetes, lack of physical activity and smoking all contribute to the risk of high cholesterol. But an individual’s diet is one of the most notable factors, as certain types of food can drastically elevate your cholesterol levels.

Risks associated with high cholesterol

It’s important to lower your cholesterol because there are several serious health risks associated with high levels of LDL. Some of these include the following:

  • Cardiovascular disease: elevated LDL levels can lead to plaque accumulation in arteries, restricting blood flow and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
  • Atherosclerosis: High cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis, a condition where your arteries become narrowed and hardened due to plaque buildup. This, in turn, obstructs the blood flow, depriving your organs of oxygen-rich blood. If the plaque ruptures, it can cause a blood clot, which will block the blood flow and cause a heart attack or stroke.
  • Hypertension, of high blood pressure: cholesterol buildup can lead to increased blood pressure. This puts additional strain on the heart and blood vessels, leading to cardiovascular problems.
  • Peripheral Artery Disease: Reduced blood flow due to cholesterol-related plaque build-up in the arteries can contribute to this condition, which causes pain and difficulty in movement.
  • Coronary Artery Disease: cholesterol deposits can narrow the coronary arteries, reducing oxygen supply to the heart muscle. This contributes to a condition known as angina and increases your risk of having a heart attack.
  • Diabetes complications: high cholesterol has a negative impact on individuals with diabetes. It also increases the risk of cardiovascular problems.
  • Pancreatitis: high cholesterol levels can contribute to inflammation of the pancreas, which can lead to a condition known as pancreatitis.
  • Gallstones: high cholesterol in an individual’s bile can lead to the formation of gallstones, which affects your digestive health. Gallstones are solid particles that vary in size and cause severe pain and discomfort by blocking the bile duct.
  • Liver disease: extended high cholesterol levels may contribute to fatty liver disease, impairing liver function over time.

Foods to eat and avoid for high cholesterol

You can manage your cholesterol levels with a heart-healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and sources of healthy fats like avocado and olive oil. For expert advice, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional, like a registered dietitian or nutritionist who can help create a personalised diet eating plan for you.

The best foods to lower cholesterol

  • Whole grains: foods that are rich in soluble fibre like oats and barley products can help lower LDL cholesterol levels. Soluble fibre forms a gel-like substance in your intestines, which slows down digestion and traps cholesterol. This prevents your body from reabsorbing it into the bloodstream.
  • Fruits and berries: like citrus and strawberries, contain antioxidants that contribute to good heart health and help lower cholesterol.
  • Fatty fish: Omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish like salmon and sardines can reduce triglycerides and lower the risk of heart disease.
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds all provide healthy fats that can lower cholesterol.
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, and peas are another excellent sources of soluble fibre, which helps lower LDL cholesterol.
  • Avocado: this fruit is rich in monounsaturated fats and this can help raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol.
  • Olive oil: contains monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, contributing to good heart health.
  • Garlic: contains allicin, which is a compound with cholesterol-lowering effects. It also supports overall cardiovascular health.
  • Green Tea: the antioxidants found in green tea may positively impact cholesterol levels.
  • Dark chocolate and cocoa: contain flavonoids, which raise ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels and contribute to good heart health.
  • Leafy greens: like spinach and kale are rich in soluble fibre and antioxidants, which can lower LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Soya products: foods like tofu, soya milk, and edamame contain plant sterols that can help lower cholesterol.
  • Lean protein: like chicken or turkey, along with fish, helps lower cholesterol by reducing saturated fat intake.

The worst foods for cholesterol

  • Saturated and trans fats: typically found in baked goods and confectionary, as well as fatty red meat, will raise LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Fried foods: especially fast food or food that has been deep-fried in unhealthy oils, will be high in trans fats and contribute to elevated LDL levels.
  • Processed foods: packaged and pre-packaged snacks and meals will often contain trans fats, sodium and additives, which will have a negative impact on your cholesterol level.
  • Egg yolk: while eggs are a good source of protein and are low in fat, the egg yolk contains cholesterol so it’s advisable to limit your egg yolk intake. You can opt for egg white-only meals.
  • Palm oil and processed vegetable oils: these are high in saturated fat and can contribute towards cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol

Tips to lower your cholesterol

In addition to watching your diet so that you are mindful of what foods to eat and avoid for high cholesterol, there are also lifestyle adjustments you can make to lower your cholesterol levels. Engage in regular aerobic exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake. Maintain a healthy weight through balanced eating and portion control. Learn how to manage stress and anxiety with activities like yoga or meditation.

It’s recommended that you monitor your cholesterol levels if you’re at risk, and if necessary, consult a healthcare professional to determine your need for medication.

How do you get your cholesterol level checked?

Momentum Heath4Me provides an annual health screening test at participating pharmacies and clinics. A healthcare practitioner will conduct a finger-prick blood test to check your cholesterol levels. This only takes about 10 minutes and will determine whether you are at risk for high cholesterol and need to make lifestyle changes.

Medical insurance for day-to-day health insurance

Diet plays an extremely important role in cholesterol levels. An unhealthy diet will contribute to elevated LDL levels, while a balanced, nutritious diet will help lower or manage your cholesterol levels. Make sure you’re aware of foods to eat and avoid for high cholesterol so you can make lifestyle adjustments for healthy living. Get covered for day-to-day health insurance benefits with a comprehensive medical insurance plan from Momentum Health4Me. Contact Bloom’s trained team of expert consultants to book an appointment to discuss your options.

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