Eating for good cholesterol

Have you been told you have high cholesterol levels? Here are a few tips on how to make small changes to your diet to improve cholesterol levels, and in turn, potentially save your life.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by your liver and found in your blood. Our body needs cholesterol for a number of metabolic processes. But, if we have too much, it can be a health risk. There are two types of cholesterol:

  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL) — also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because it can block your arteries and increase your risk of coronary heart disease.
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL) — also known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it helps remove excess cholesterol.

It is best to have a low LDL cholesterol level and a high HDL cholesterol level. While the majority of our cholesterol is produced in our liver, your cholesterol can also be impacted by the foods you eat.

How does diet improve our cholesterol?

Bupa Dietitian Rosalyn D’Angelo says a healthy, balanced diet can help maintain normal cholesterol levels, while an unbalanced diet can contribute to high cholesterol levels.
“Eating a lot of saturated fat can increase your blood cholesterol, in particular increasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol. Trans fats also increase the LDL cholesterol and lower the good (HDL) cholesterol in our blood. Trans fats naturally occur in foods that come from animal sources such as beef, lamb and dairy. The way that some fats are processed can also produce trans fats,” she says.
D’Angelo says foods containing saturated and/or trans fats include: butter, cream, biscuits, cakes and pastries, deep fried foods, processed meats, fats on meat, skin on chicken, coconut oil, coconut milk and palm oil. These foods can certainly be enjoyed on occasion, but need to be limited, especially if cholesterol is a concern.

Tips to reduce saturated fats

Reducing your saturated fat intake is crucial if you want to improve cholesterol levels. D’Angelo suggests:

  • choosing lean cuts of meat, trim any visible fat and remove skin
  • choosing reduced fat milk
  • including more beans, lentils, legumes and fish in your diet instead of always eating meat.
salmon dinner

What about eggs?

In years gone by, we were advised to avoid eggs if we had high cholesterol. However, D’Angelo says we shouldn’t be too worried about eating them.
“Eggs are actually very nutritious. As long as you’re not adding heaps of saturated fat preparing them, the National Heart Foundation recommends you can have up to six eggs per week without increasing your risk of heart disease.”

What next?

D’Angelo says cutting out all fats is not the answer. Instead, we should replace the saturated fats in our diet with healthy, unsaturated ones.
“Healthy fats help to increase our good HDL cholesterol levels, and lower our bad LDL cholesterol levels. Healthy fats are found in nuts, seeds, oily fish, olive oil, canola oil, olives and avocado,” she says.
“Fibre also blocks the reabsorption of cholesterol in the gut, which helps to lower cholesterol levels. So include plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.”

Healthy swaps and healthy additions

Eating for good cholesterol comes down to making some smart food swaps and increasing your intake of other healthy foods. D’Angelo says we should:

  • replace butter on toast with avocado and sliced tomato
  • swap bacon for salmon at breakfast
  • choose wholemeal grain bread instead of white bread
  • dress salads with extra-virgin olive oil
  • sprinkle nuts, seeds and berries on top of your yoghurt or porridge
  • have fish two to three times per week
  • aim for five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day.

Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle will go a long way towards healthy cholesterol levels.

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