Cholesterol is a vital for our hormones and our cell membranes, for tissue repair and vitamin synthesis. Both high cholesterol and low cholesterol are linked to disease. With ‘high’ cholesterol, it is the oxidised (damaged) low density lipoproteins (LDL) known as ‘bad’ cholesterol that is believed to be the biggest nuisance. Factors contributing to oxidised LDL include; a diet high in trans fats (bakery sweets, deep fried foods), excess omega-6 oils (most plant oils) inadequate omega-3 (fish and flaxseed oils), high sugar intake, smoking, and poorly managed diabetes.
Most of the cholesterol in our body is made by our body. Dietary cholesterol will only moderately elevate cholesterol levels (and only in susceptible people). More of a problem is a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat and sugar, as coupled with inflammation these promote natural cholesterol production.
If you have high cholesterol, try these guidelines:
Reduce meat and dairy
Meat and dairy are the main sources of saturated fat and cholesterol. Eggs are best eaten every second day, or skip the yolk (the cholesterol rich part) every second day. Coconut is particularly high in saturated fat; there is information that coconut can raise HDL (known as the ‘good’ cholesterol), but long term effects are unknown, therefore it is best to keep consumption moderate to low.
Do not cook with oils like sunflower, safflower, or canola, as their omega 6 levels are too high and will increase inflammation and the chances of oxidisation. Olive oil is the best choice as your principal fat, but avoid cooking with fats wherever possible. For savoury dishes and regular meals ditch cooking oils and start sautéing or oven baking with a little water and lemon juice, or try poaching or steaming. Add your oil at the table, not to the pan. Avocados are high in fat but have additional heart protective nutrients, so you can enjoy these in moderation.
Avoid foods with a high sugar and low fibre content such as processed foods; they are particularly bad for increasing cholesterol production, and often contain harmful man-made trans fats.
Eat nuts and seeds
You can eat abundantly of raw and unsalted nuts and seeds. Soak them in water overnight for additional nutrients and digestibility. Nuts have a cholesterol lowering affect, and substituting nuts in place of meat and dairy reduces risk of cardiovascular disease. A tablespoon of flaxseeds, freshly ground daily, will increase the ratio of omega 3 (anti-inflammatory) to omega 6 (pro-inflammatory) oils in your body. Substituting oily fish like sardines for red meat is also great for correcting the omega ratio and can improve your LDL:HDL ratio, too.
Eat plenty of organic vegetables and fibre-rich fruit, plus at least 2-3 cups of green vegetables daily to provide protective anti-oxidants which reduce inflammation and oxidisation, and improve arterial health. Organic produce with fewer chemicals will also reduce the toxic load and inflammation in your body.
Garlic is a superfood that lowers triglycerides (fats in our bloodstream) and LDL, increases the HDL, and supports healthy blood pressure. 2-4 fresh cloves of garlic daily are recommended. Add to cooking, to green smoothies (if you’re game!), or crush raw into chopped tomatoes and basil for a delicious bruschetta.
Soluble fibre helps lower total cholesterol. Eat 35g of fibre daily from oats, beans, nuts and vegetables.
Lifestyle and other therapies
Stress and hormone imbalance is another factor in high cholesterol and heart disease. There is a two-fold risk of cardiovascular disease in ‘Type A’ (aggressive/impatient) personalities. Stress is inflammatory, influencing hormone function and production of cholesterol.
Moderate regular exercise is one of the best ways to combat stress and it improves the levels of fats in our bloodstream too; aim for a 30 minute brisk walk 5 times per week, building up as appropriate.
Acupuncture and massage are also useful stress busters. Herbal tonics such as Rhodiola tincture or Lemon Balm tea can help reduce Type A tendencies. Many herbs including Hawthorn and Gingko Biloba are heart protective. Ask your herbalist for drug interaction and dosage advice.
Niacin (vitamin B3) is a proven cholesterol lowering agent which also lowers mortality rate from cardiovascular disease. Medical conditions and medications need to be considered before undertaking the therapy. Seek appropriate guidance from a nutritional therapist.
By Naturopath Gemma Hurditch, lecturer for CNM.