Cholesterol. It’s the soft, waxy substance that circulates along with other fats in your body and there are two kinds; the “good” cholesterol (HDL) and the “bad” cholesterol (LDL). The liver makes cholesterol and helps build cell membranes, manufacture certain hormones and ensures the proper functioning of internal organs. But it also comes from foods we eat such as animal protein and saturated fat. HDL (good) cholesterol is healthy and essential for bodily functions while too much LDL (bad) cholesterol clings to the lining of blood vessels and leads to hardening of the arteries. This can in turn contribute to heart disease and stroke.
Increasing HDL (“good”) levels cleans the walls of blood cells, flushes out the excessive LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and delivers it to the liver where it can be eliminated from the body. Dietary changes that can help increase the HDL (“good”) levels include using more monounsaturated oils (such as olive oil), avoiding partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats), increasing intake of high soluble fiber foods such as beans, oats and fruits, and eating more foods high in omega-3′s such as fish and walnuts.
1. Oats: Because oats and oatmeal contain soluble fiber which helps decrease the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, try getting 10g daily, or the amount found in 1 1/2 cups of cooked oatmeal. A total of 25-30g of dietary fiber daily (found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes) helps “sweep out” saturated fats and cholesterol from your body.
2. Nuts: A small handful daily (about 1 1/2 oz) can go a long way. Nuts help maintain healthy, elastic blood vessels.
3. Cold-water fish: Eat salmon, tuna (not from a can), herring, mackerel, or halibut at least twice a week. These fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids which help lower high blood pressure.
4. Extra virgin olive oil: 2 Tablespoons daily. This oil contains high levels of disease-fighting antioxidants that help prevent heart disease. (Find Newman’s Own Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil at Vitacost.com)
5. Foods with stanols: Stanols are substances found in plants that help prevent cholesterol absorption. These foods include orange juice and yogurt. Eat daily.
Supplementation can also help promote healthy cholesterol levels. Artichoke extract causes the body to secrete bile which helps improve fat digestion. Artichoke extract increases the ratio of good cholesterol (HDL). Supplementing with artichoke extract also protects the heart and liver from damage caused by high cholesterol.
Exercise is important if you are trying to reduce “bad” LDL levels so try and get at least 20-30 minutes per day. Cut out all fast fried foods and anything made with partially hydrogenated oils (read the ingredient labels) including packaged cookies, cakes, pies, etc.