Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced naturally by the liver and found in your blood.
Your liver produces a certain amount of "good" cholesterol to help build cell membranes, digest food and make hormones, however the over consumption of dietary cholesterol can lead to chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
There are two main types of cholesterol:
1. "Good" cholesterol (HDL) and;
2. "Bad" cholesterol (LDL).
- HDL is "High-density lipoprotein", known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it can help to protect you against coronary heart disease;
- LDL is "Low-density lipoprotein", known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because it can add to the build-up of plaque and fatty deposits in your arteries, increasing your risk of coronary heart disease.
High levels of bad cholesterol in your blood are mainly caused by eating foods high in saturated fats and trans-fats. It is also caused by not including enough high quality unsaturated fats and fibre-rich foods in your diet.
Keeping a lid on your "bad" cholesterol levels is easier than you might think and is an important key to longevity and an enjoyable life.
So here we reveal the main foods that cause high cholesterol and share 7 steps to reducing bad cholesterol in your body as part of a health conscious lifestyle, that will in turn help you to avoid chronic, cholesterol-related diseases.
What is cholesterol and how does it cause heart disease?
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in animal products such as fatty meats, poultry and full fat dairy products (such as milk, cream, cheese and yoghurt).
Additionally, bad cholesterol is found in artificial trans fats, created through a process known as hydrogenation, which converts liquid vegetable oils into semi-solid partially hydrogenated oil, primarily for purposes of extending shelf-life.
Trans fats are common in commercial foods such as cakes, cookies, pies, pastry, margarine, shortening, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, fries, donuts and fried takeaway foods.
Eating too many of these foods too often, causes a builds up of cholesterol in the walls of your arteries. This causes the arteries to harden so that they become narrowed, which then slows or blocks blood flow to the heart.
The blood is responsible for carrying oxygen to the heart, so it is common to suffer from chest pain if not enough blood or oxygen is able to reach your heart. When blood supply to the heart is completely cut off by a blockage in the arterial wall, the result is a heart attack.
Realise though, that not all cholesterol is entirely bad.
The body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to protect the nerves and to build new cells. However, the trouble starts when we inundate the body with fatty and processed foods as a dietary staple.
Being "cholesterol conscious" is about knowing what causes high cholesterol in the first place and then following basic dietary and lifestyle steps to reduce it over time, protecting your heart health and supporting your longevity.
How to Reduce High Cholesterol Levels
1. Eat Heart Healthy Foods
Saturated fat and bad cholesterol in the food you eat is the leading cause of high blood cholesterol.
To reduce your levels of bad cholesterol, the first step is to clean up your diet by limiting saturated fat, processed foods and takeaway meals.
Reduce saturated fats - As mentioned, saturated fats are primarily found in fatty cuts of red meat, lamb, pork, poultry and full-fat dairy products, which all raise your total cholesterol. Decreasing your consumption of these foods will reduce your "bad" LDL cholesterol.
Eliminate trans fats - Trans fats are the worst type of fat you can eat because of the way that they disrupt the chemistry within the body. Trans fats are often identified on food labels as "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil", commonly found in frozen foods, snack foods, cookies, cakes and used extensively in cooking take-away foods. Trans fats raise overall cholesterol levels.
Eat Unsaturated Fats - Replace foods containing saturated fats and trans-fats with those that are rich in monounsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocados, avocado oil and sesame oil.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids - Omega-3 fatty acids don't affect LDL cholesterol. But they have other heart-healthy benefits, including reducing blood pressure. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds, wild caught salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines.
Increase soluble fiber - Soluble fiber slows the absorption of cholesterol into your blood stream and is found in plant foods, such as oatmeal, barley, kidney beans and a variety of fruits and vegetables including, brussel sprouts, potatoes, peas, carrots, citrus fruits, apples and pears.
Grapefruit is particularly powerful in reducing cholesterol, toxicity and plaque in the blood due to the compounds contained within its pectins, which have a blood cleansing effect.
Load up on Garlic - Eating plenty of garlic in your cooking and even raw, can significantly reduce cholesterol because of it's potent blood-cleansing and anti-oxidant properties.
Extra Handy Tip: Our Get Things Moving Daily Fibre Blend prepared from psyllium, hemp, flax and chia is a great way to boost your daily fibre intake if you're not getting enough from a healthy diet.
2. Do Moderate Exercise
The benefit of moderate, regular exercise can never be overstated, but it is essential to managing healthy cholesterol levels.
It helps your heart health from every angle, by combating obesity, improving your physical fitness, and lowering LDL levels while raising HDL levels.
The best part is, any type of exercise benefits you, including low-intensity walking.
Many studies show that just 30-45 minutes of brisk walking five days a week can reverse high cholesterol, lower your risk of heart disease and even add years to your life.
Exercise can also cause a domino effect and improve your health on all fronts, from encouraging you to eat healthier, reduce sedentary time, and make you less stressed and prone to emotional eating.
3. Do Bursts of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting otherwise knows as "Time-Restricted Eating", simply means shortening your consumption window within each 24 hour period, allowing your body less time spent in a "fed" state and more time spent in a "fasted" state.
When you do this, your body is able to divert its available energy from constantly processing food to doing handy clean up work. When you fast, insulin is lowered and you begin to break down fats, recycle cells, repair damaged tissue and reduce inflammation.
When you’re fighting high cholesterol, it’s not always enough to include more of the good stuff in your diet. It is also important to bring the scale down, which can help increase the absorption of cholesterol from the diet and help prevent the body from creating new cholesterol.
The easiest way to experiment with intermittent fasting is to eat dinner earlier and breakfast later, which simply adds on extra "fasting" time to your 6-8 hour sleep period.
4. Be Careful with Alcohol
Although alcohol itself does not contain cholesterol, excess alcohol consumption places stress on the liver, which in turn impacts your liver's ability to effectively metabolise fat and cholesterol.
The biggest culprits are mixed drinks, such as cocktails, spirits and also beers made with preservatives, additives and chemicals, that can affect cholesterol levels because they raise the triglycerides in your blood. If your triglyceride levels become too high, they can build up in the liver, causing fatty liver disease.
Interestingly, the polyphenols and flavonoids present in wine are known to actually help clear the blood and reduce heart disease risk. This is why mediterranean diets which are traditionally high in fat, have lower incidences of heart disease.
So, when it comes to reducing cholesterol, the trick with alcohol is to only drink in moderation and to be very selective with they type of alcohol you drink. Choose organic preservative-free red wines and unfiltered, naturally brewed preservative-free beers.
5. Reduce Stress Levels
Reducing stress by relaxing, laughing and getting into nature, is not just good for your mental health, it can actually help raise your good cholesterol levels.
Stress can also cause you to forego healthy habits and to prolong your unhealthy habits like eating junk food, skipping exercise, and indulging in alcohol too frequently.
Take a daily walk on the beach or in the park, have a hot salt bath with epsom salts and essential oils a few times per week, spend time with people who make you laugh and practice your passion regularly. By consciously finding ways to reduce your stress levels, you'll go a long way helping yo reduce cholesterol and heart disease risk.
The Main Takeaway
High cholesterol can lead to a host of serious lifestyle conditions including high blood pressure and heart disease.
The signs that you have high cholesterol are not always sudden or obvious and can creep up on you over time. That's why it's important to pay attention to your dietary and lifestyle habits to manage your cholesterol throughout your life time.
Begin by reducing your intake of bad fats found in processed and takeaway foods, which are the major cause of high cholesterol.
Next, limit your consumption of saturated fat from animal products, particularly those from industrial raised animals; and instead choose the chemical-free, grass-fed and wild-caught, versions of these foods in moderate amounts if you're not vegetarian.
Boost your consumption of good fats from sources such as olive oil, avocados, eat plenty of locally sourced, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Finally, do whatever you can to reduce your levels of stress and to ensure that you're getting moderate exercise on a regular basis. All of these steps will serve you over the long term and will go a long way to ensuring that your cholesterol levels are always in check, with little to no risk of chronic cholesterol-related disease.
Learn more in Self Care Mindset: How to Get on a Healthy Path & Stick to Positive New Habits.
Tolman Self Care.