IT’S not talked about as much as your blood pressure and sugar levels, but if it spirals out of control, high cholesterol levels can have detrimental effects on your health.
But the good news is that there are foods that you can consume which will keep the levels under control.
According to Dr Alfred Dawes, general, laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon, the idea is to avoid red meat, too much butter, fried foods, cheese, and other foods that have a lot of saturated fat.
“Most of the cholesterol in the body is made by us rather than from the foods we eat. So eating foods that are labelled ‘low cholesterol‘ while consuming lots of the building blocks of cholesterol and saturated fats will see a rise in cholesterol levels,” he said.
“Avocados and ackee contain plant-based fats and as such no cholesterol. In moderate amounts ackee, avocados and nuts are good sources of fats needed by the body. Plant-based fats are generally more desirable than fats from animals, that is, red meat,” Dr Dawes added.
He explained that some things that might help lower cholesterol include:
1. Eating more soluble fibre which is found in fruits, oats, barley, beans, and peas.
2. Developing a vegan diet — A vegan diet contains no animal products such as meat, eggs, or milk.
To have a healthy diet, Dr Dawes says it is also important to limit or avoid sugar, sweets, and refined grains, which are found in white bread, white rice, most forms of pasta, and most packaged snack foods.
He said despite what many believe, eggs which are usually associated with high cholesterol are actually a good source of protein and do not raise the cholesterol level significantly, though they contain a lot of cholesterol.
With regards to actual foods that can lower cholesterol levels, Dr Dawes said the following are good:
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
These include oily fish and olive and canola oil and seem to raise good cholesterol and might lower certain types of bad cholesterol. “Studies show that people who eat lots of these foods are less likely than those who eat less of them to have heart disease. If you want, it’s fine to eat one to two servings of oily fish a week such as salmon, herring or tuna. If you would like to take fish oil supplements, talk to your doctor,” he said.
“Some studies show that eating certain nuts, such as walnuts and pistachios, can help lower cholesterol and even the risk of heart attack,” he said.
Dr Dawes said fibre-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and oats seem to lower cholesterol and are generally good for your health.
Additionally, Dr Dawes said there are many designer foods that claim to lower cholesterol, but cautioned individuals to be careful with these foods.
“There are now many foods that have added plant extracts called “sterols” or “stanols”. Foods with added sterols or stanols can lower cholesterol, but it’s not clear whether those foods help reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. Plus, research in animals shows that these extracts might actually cause health problems. Experts think more research is needed before they can recommend that people eat foods with added plant sterols or stanols,” he pointed out.
Dr Dawes said if you are interested in improving your health, it is best not to focus just on cholesterol, but instead make changes to your diet that will reduce your risk of heart disease and other problems.
He advises that in this case your diet can include:
1. Lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains (examples of whole grains include whole wheat, oats, and barley).
2. Some beans, peas, lentils, chick peas and similar foods.
3. Some nuts, such as walnuts, almonds and peanuts.
4. Some milk and milk products.
5. Some fish.