One of the most important blood parameters that a physician looks for during a wellness visit is your cholesterol. If your cholesterol levels shoot beyond the normal range, you'll be advised to keep a watch on your food intake, make healthy alterations to your diet, and in some cases medications would be prescribed. So why is so much attention given to our cholesterol levels? Because the artery clogging activity of cholesterol begins as early as in your 20's and 30's. The Framingham Heart study states that nearly a quarter of women (early 30's) in the study showed borderline-high levels of bad cholesterol, more than a third in their early 40's, and more than half in their early 50's.
What Cholesterol Means to You
Cholesterol is a type of waxy substance that is present in all cells of the body and circulates in the blood stream. Not all cholesterol is bad, it is necessary to produce hormones, vitamin D, and certain enzymes that aid in digestion. Regardless of the supply of cholesterol in our diets, our body produces its own cholesterol called as endogenous cholesterol. The body uses both sources of cholesterol; dietary (exogenous such as meat, fish, egg, poultry, dairy) and endogenous cholesterol.
High cholesterol is one risk factor for stroke, heart disease and heart attack. The problem arises when excess cholesterol clogs the arteries and restricts blood flow, leading to heart disease and other dangerous complications. The National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute reports that about 42 million Americans are affected by high cholesterol and 63 million have borderline cholesterol.
What Factors Affect Blood Cholesterol Levels?
Diet, aging, genetics, diabetes, exercise, body weight, diabetes, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and stress influence the blood cholesterol levels. It is very important to consult your doctor regularly for blood tests, as an elevation in cholesterol does not produce warning signs or symptoms. The frequency of tests will be determined by your individual risk factors such as family history, patient history and diet.
Blood Cholesterol Levels
200 mg / 100 ml – Desirable
200 – 239 mg / 100 ml – Borderline High
240mg and above / 100 ml – High
Managing and decreasing high cholesterol has three important components: dietary changes, decreasing excess body weight, and increasing physical activity.
How Do You Effectively Lower High Cholesterol?
Choosing the right kind of foods will have a significant influence on cholesterol levels. Making a gradual shift from a predominantly animal-based diet to more plant-based foods does promote healthy blood cholesterol. However, plant-based food choices need to be wholesome and devoid of refined ingredients.
The National Institute of Health recommends the consumption of 2 grams per day of plant sterols (plant stanols) and 5–10 grams per day of dietary fiber to effectively decrease blood cholesterol.
Plant sterols and plant stanols: These are present only in plant sources and help to block cholesterol absorption from the digestive tract. They are unique in that they lower bad cholesterol but do not decrease the levels of good cholesterol. Studies show that consuming 2 grams of plant sterols (phytosterols) everyday can decrease LDL cholesterol by 10-15%.
Phytosterol Content of Food
|Whole grain barley||100 grams||125 mg|
|Whole grain rye||100 grams||112 mg|
|Wheat germ||½ cup||237 mg|
|Whole wheat||100 grams||20.2 mg|
|Almonds||1 ounce||56 mg|
|Pistachios||1 ounce||79 mg|
|Sesame seeds||1 ounce||113 mg|
|Flax seed (ground)||2 tablespoon||26 mg|
|Cauliflower||½ cup||25 mg|
Dietary fiber: These are plant parts that do not break down in the digestive tract but instead pass through undigested. Plants are the only source of dietary fiber and they contain soluble and insoluble fibers. Dietary fiber does not carry nutritive value, but it is important for maintaining your digestive tract and health.
Soluble fiber: Soluble fibers absorb water and form a gel which delays the passage of food in the stomach and intestine imparting a feeling of "fullness." A slower emptying of the stomach also causes a slow and steady raise in blood glucose levels that aids in weight management. It also blocks the absorption of dietary cholesterol and helps to lower blood cholesterol levels. Adding 5-10 grams per day of soluble fiber brings about a 3-5% reduction in cholesterol levels.
Insoluble fiber: Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and also passes through the digestive tract undigested. It helps to maintain the pH balance in intestines and aids in regular bowel movements. It also helps in removing toxins from the body and decreasing the risk of developing colon cancer.
|Soluble fiber||Insoluble fiber|
|Oats, barley, millet, quinoa,, spelt, wild rice etc||Whole grains, wheat wheat, whole bran, brown rice, barley, oats, spelt etc|
|Legumes such as peas and beans||Legumes such as black eyed peas, chick peas, most lentils.|
|Grains & seeds like lentils, flax seeds, chia seeds,||Nuts: Brazil nuts, Chest nuts, Coconuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios, pine nuts etc|
|Fruits such as apples, strawberries, blueberries, pears||Seeds: Flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, quinoa|
|Vegetables like celery, carrots, cucumbers||Fruits and vegetables.|
Ways to Lower High Cholesterol Through Food
• Limit cholesterol-rich foods such as processed, baked goods, cookies, and animal products.
• If you like eating meat, switch to healthier options such as lean meat, fish and skim milk. If it is possible to switch to plant-based foods go for it, as studies have shown that switching to a plant-based diet significantly decreases blood cholesterol levels.
• Boost your antioxidant intake by consuming a variety of plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables.
• Try to include foods rich in plant sterols such as nuts and seeds, which are also naturally good sources of fiber. Consume a variety of mixed nuts for added benefits.
Apart from dietary changes it is also necessary to be active for at least 30 minutes per day. Physical activity may include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, kayaking, hiking and so on. If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol it is also important to visit with your physician for regular blood work to periodically monitor your blood cholesterol levels.
Interesting Cholesterol facts
• Your brain can use up to 25% of body's total cholesterol in order to function.
• The liver is responsible for cholesterol production by the body.
• Plants do not contain cholesterol, animal sources do.