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Tips to Lower Your Cholesterol


When we hear the word cholesterol, we tend to think about its negative health effects. However, cholesterol has many important roles in the body. For example, it helps to maintain cell structure and to make certain hormones (1,2).


There are 2 types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. LDL cholesterol is known as “bad” or “lousy” cholesterol while HDL cholesterol is considered to be “good” or “healthy” cholesterol.


Why do we want to lower LDL cholesterol?


When discussing ways to lower cholesterol, we are focusing on reducing LDL cholesterol.


Studies show that high levels of LDL cholesterol have unhealthy effects on the heart and can lead to issues like coronary heart disease and stroke (3,4).

How do we lower LDL cholesterol?

1. Choose leaner animal proteins


Saturated fats are fats that are common in animal foods like meats and dairy products as well as tropical fats like coconut and palm kernel oils. Eating saturated fats can increase LDL cholesterol.This is because the body produces LDL cholesterol as it breaks down saturated.


Here are some ways you can reduce how much saturated fats you eat:

  • Select “lean” or “extra lean” options with reduced fat

  • If buying chicken or turkey, choose skinless options

  • limit processed meats, such as ham, sausage, and deli meats

  • Choose lower fat dairy

  • Limit the use of butter, ghee, and coconut oil in your cooking

A common misconception is that eggs, shrimp, and lobster should be avoided because they are high cholesterol foods. It is true that these foods contain cholesterol. But the research is showing that the cholesterol in foods does not increase LDL cholesterol in the blood. It is actually the saturated fat content of foods that affects your LDL levels. For example, if you eat shrimp cooked in butter, it is the butter that will raise your LDL not the shrimp because butter is a source of saturated fat.

2. Eat more plant-based proteins


Protein can come from animal or plant sources. Animal proteins have higher levels of saturated fats. Plant-based proteins are lower in saturated fat. They are also an excellent source of fibre, which can also help lower cholesterol.


Examples of plant-based proteins are:

  • Nuts and seeds or their butters

  • Legumes like beans, lentils, and chickpeas

  • Tofu

  • Tempeh

  • Edamame

  • Soy milk

What about meat substitutes, plant-based sausages and burgers? Although these foods are higher in fibre than meat, they can still be quite processed and a source of sodium and saturated fats. Make sure to read labels so you choose healthier varieties and whenever possible, choose whole and unprocessed plant foods more often.


3. Eat more soluble fibre


Soluble fibre can decrease cholesterol levels by reducing fat absorption. This is because soluble fibre can mix with fats and prevent them from being broken down and absorbed by the body.


Sources of soluble fibre are:

  • Oats Legumes

  • Citrus fruits

  • Psyllium

4. Choose heart healthy fats


When cooking with oils, choose plant-based liquid oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower, and avocado oil. These oils have high levels of heart healthy unsaturated fats compared to saturated fats, which helps reduce cholesterol.


Make sure to regularly eat foods that are high in omega-3. This is because omega-3 has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease (5). Foods rich in omega-3:

  • Fatty fish like salmon, trout, sardines, tuna and mackerel

  • Chia seeds

  • Flax seeds

  • Walnuts

  • Canola oil

Having fatty fish 2-3 times a week can help you get all the omega-3 you need. If you choose vegetarian choices of omega-3 like chia, flax, or walnuts aim for 2 tablespoons every day to meet your omega-3


5. Choose whole and minimally processed foods


Foods that are highly processed contain higher amounts of saturated fats and less healthy fats, fibre, and vitamins and minerals.


Limit fast food, potato chips, baked goods, sweets and chocolates, frozen dinners you have in your diet and instead focus more on whole foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, lower fat dairy and meat products.


6. Eat more meals at home


Foods at restaurants tend to be cooked with high amounts of fat and salt. Cooking at home helps control both the amount and type of fat that you add to your meals.


Eating at restaurants and having take-out can be fun, so we are not suggesting that you never eat out or participate in social activities. Instead try to limit eating out to once per week or a couple of times per month.

7. Changes beyond the diet


Dietary changes play a very important role in lowering cholesterol. Other lifestyle factors that can increase cholesterol include:

  • Smoking

  • Drinking alcohol

  • Not exercising

Quitting smoking, exercising for 30 minutes per day and drinking less alcohol can help you lower your LDL cholesterol and increase your HDL cholesterol.

It may seem like you need to make many changes to your lifestyle to lower your cholesterol. Keep in mind that even making small changes over time can make a big difference for your health.


Need more personalized support to change your diet to lower cholesterol? Reach out to Niloufar using this link to schedule an appointment.


Co-written by Tina Farokhifar, Nutrition Student.



References

1. Pfrieger, F. W. (2003). Role of cholesterol in synapse formation and function. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-Biomembranes, 1610(2), 271-280. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005273603000245#BIB2

2. Hu, J., Zhang, Z., Shen, W. J., & Azhar, S. (2010). Cellular cholesterol delivery, intracellular processing and utilization for biosynthesis of steroid hormones. Nutrition & Metabolism, 7(1), 1-25. https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-7-47

3. Liou, L., & Kaptoge, S. (2020). Association of small, dense LDL-cholesterol concentration and lipoprotein particle characteristics with coronary heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS One, 15(11), e0241993. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0241993

4. Domanski, M. J., Tian, X., Wu, C. O., Reis, J. P., Dey, A. K., Gu, Y., ... & Fuster, V. (2020). Time course of LDL cholesterol exposure and cardiovascular disease event risk. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 76(13), 1507-1516. https://www.jacc.org/doi/abs/10.1016/j.jacc.2020.07.059

5. Ruscica, M., Sirtori, C. R., Carugo, S., Calder, P. C., & Corsini, A. (2022). Omega-3 and cardiovascular prevention–Is this still a choice? Pharmacological Research, 106342. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1043661822002870


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